"Déjà Nu"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jan 13 03:06:49 UTC 2004

Someone was just asking about this item earlier today from the very
nice recent Shofarsogut compilation by Jim Landau

6. DEJA NU n. Having the feeling you've seen the same exasperated look on
your mother's face but not knowing exactly when.

Well, in today's Times this same phrase appeared as a headline, only
this time incorporating, I take it, a triple pun:
The New York Times

January 12, 2004, Monday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section E; Page 1; Column 1; The Arts/Cultural Desk
HEADLINE: THEATER REVIEW; Deja Nu? Stars Return, Now Spoofing Their Spoof

    These guys are as loose as a pair of all-night jammers in a jazz
club, trading licks at 3 in the morning. Sure, they've done their
numbers hundreds of times before. But they understand that if you're
talented enough, you can always make an old song sound new.
Especially if you've got the right partner and an audience
predisposed to cherish every move you make.
    Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, the once and current stars of
the Broadway musical "The Producers," are a shade cooler than when
they created their roles two and a half years ago. Granted, they're
burning energy on a solar level as they resume their former parts,
Max Bialystock (Mr. Lane), the gloriously greedy showman, and Leo
Bloom (Mr. Broderick), Max's timid accomplice in fraud.
and so on.  Triple, because it takes it the French phrase, the
Yiddish "nu" variant, and the fact that the Yiddish version is
particularly appropriate for this particular Mel Brooksian context.


P.S.  Re Safire's column yesterday on "Janus words":  In addition to
citing Doug Wilson and John Baker from our thread on "stay the
course", Safire also prominently included a contribution from Ben
Zimmer.  Ben has been a sometime (although I believe not current)
member of ads-l and as an undergraduate here at Yale was a former
student of mine in Words and Meaning, a status that I like to think
started him on his lexicophilic trajectory (it's been downhill ever
since, I'm sure; cf. Safire column for reference).  My only regret
about yesterday's column is that the term Lynne Murphy and I have
been pushing for these "Janus words" (and phrases, like "stay the
course" and "downhill all the way") that have two contradictory
meanings, ENANTIONYMS, was not endorsed.

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