I often regret, as I go through my life, the absence in English of the word “bouleversé”. Often, “bouleversée”, since I want to say it about myself, and a female subject dictates another ‘e’. In an otherwise English sentence, I feel my mouth forming itself for French. “It was a simply incredible book,” I say. “I was…” and I feel the lack of that word, the fact that saying it will, in all likelihood, confuse rather than communicate. Then I remember that there is an analogue, and I finish my sentence, belatedly, “bowled over.”
“Bowled over” is what it means, knocked over by a ball, and I have gone through this cycle of reaching, regret and replacement a hundred times. Still I feel something lacking, despite the perfectly adequate phrase “bowled over.” And I think I know now what it is.
It’s the sound. “Boule”, intense and self-contained, barreling through the vowel without deviation or dipthong, and then “versé”, “turning”, turning outward, the sound itself an opening, a release. “Verser” means to turn or flip, yes, but also to pour, and that word captures so perfectly the experience of being shaken, awakened, and changed. The projectile of the first syllable shattering your preconceptions like a glass pitcher, so you are poured out to find a new shape, shattered and made new. I love that word.