Je n’ai pas réussi à placer un seul mot.

Je n’ai pas réussi à placer un seul mot.

zhuh nay pah ray-ew-see ah plah-say uh suhl MO. Click below to hear this.*

I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

What is a word? Is it like a credit card that you slide into a slot at the gas pump? That’s pretty much what it feels like when you are with a nonstop talker. She (or he) doesn’t even leave you a narrow gap to slide a an edgewise word into. You are left speechless, through no choice of your own.

And in French? Perhaps a word is more like a great set of Scrabble tiles on a crowded board. You’ve got the word, but your opponent has monopolized the board, and you are left without a play. Your post-game analysis? Je n’ai pas réussi à placer un seul mot. I didn’t succeed in placing a single word. Réussir à means to succeed in, implying an ongoing effort. And placer means to place, not just to put. It implies intention, precision, decisiveness.

In either language, the expression robs the conversation of the free ebb-and-flow that characterizes an easy rapport between interlocutors. It describes a certain stiffness, an anxiety that hangs over the interchange. It’s a form of bullying, really, if it doesn’t just spring out of mindlessness on the part of ther talker.

And you are left clutching your word in your hand, wishing you could lay it on the table. You know how you draw a breath right before you speak? If the other person misses this sign, you feel breathless, you breathe raggedly, you feel exhausted. When the Scrabble game is over, your fingers are still curled around those prize-winning tiles. Sigh.

*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file:

je_nai_pas_reussi_a_placer.mp3

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