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Grammatical French Expression
|[day zhah vu]
|[de ʒa vy]
Usage notes: In French, déjà vu isn’t so much an idiomatic expression as an everyday grammatical structure: the adverb déjà (already) followed by the past participle of voir (to see). Its most common use by far is literal.
|Est-ce tu as déjà vu ce film ?
|Have you already seen this movie?
|Je l’ai déjà vu quelque part.
|I’ve seen him before, His face is familiar.
Déjà vu can also be used dismissively or disparagingly.
|Enfin, ça c’est déjà vu.
|Well, it’s been known to happen.
|C’est du déjà vu.
|It’s nothing new, We’ve seen it all before.
Alternate spelling: déjà-vu
English borrowed the expression déjà vu in 1903* to describe the scientific (some say paranormal) phenomenon where a person gets an overwhelming sense of having already been somewhere or seen or heard something that, in reality, s/he has no actual memory of being or seeing or hearing.
Interestingly, Le Petit Robert mentions this last meaning for déjà-vu in its entries for vu and paramnésie (une impression de déjà-vu and illusion du déjà-vu, respectively), but I’ve yet to meet a French person who knows it. My husband asked dozens of native French speakers in his ESL classes to define déjà vu, and they always responded with only the literal grammatical meaning. When he explained what déjà vu means in English, they insisted that it’s not used like that in French.
Antonym: jamais vu – literally, “never seen.” Again, in French, this is just part of a normal sentence like Je n’ai jamais vu ce film – “I’ve never seen this movie.” But in English it refers to a memory disorder: the feeling that a person is doing or seeing something for the first time, when in reality s/he has done or seen it before.
* Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary
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