In competitions for certain sports, such as rowing, there’s a kind of “second chance” round for competitors who didn’t finish at the top of their first round. Rather than being brutally and finally knocked out after one try, they go on to the… what was that called?

For years, I thought that it was called rapprochage – ‘approaching again’. (I didn’t pause and realize that the French noun from rapprocher is actually rapprochement. If I had looked it up, I would have known, but I was busy watching sports just at the moment, OK?) Finally I became aware that it’s actually repechage.

OK, but, wait… is that from French repêchage, as in re-, like ‘again’, plus pêcher, ‘to fish’? So, like, they’re being fished again, or fished back out, or…?

Yes, that’s right, hook, line, and sinker. If you drop something in the water, you fish it out; si on laisse tomber quelque chose dans l’eau, on le repêche. Ça c’est le repêchage! That doesn’t mean that it’s to give another chance to rowers who fell in the water, though – the English term draws on the common figurative sense in French of ‘rescue’ or ‘do-over’ or ‘de-oops’ or, um, ‘unfumble’. If you muff an exam and get to redo it, that is also repêchage.

But what I really like about the word is the image of fishing in the same pool again to get more fish. That’s not really how it’s used in French, but it gives the other point of view on the effort – not the contestants trying to recover what they let go, but those holding the competition going back and getting a few more.

Because there are plenty of fish in the sea, right? Isn’t that what your mom always told you?* So after every breakup there can be a repechage. Sure, sure, all the people clamoring for your attention who didn’t get it before get another shot, so it’s a repechage in that sense, but from the other perspective, you get to drop your line back into the sea and fish out another. (And perhaps another, and another, and…)**

And of course you can apply it to a wide variety of other life circumstances, too: flubbed job interviews, ruined recipes, cancelled travel plans, and, uh, quite a lot of things since Covid hit, come to think of it.

In fact, since life just keeps on going, we all just get to keep on trying. Every day brings a chance for repechage of things that had gotten out of hand and slipped away. We don’t necessarily get to redo the exact same things that didn’t work out the first time, but, you know, drop one in, fish another out…

*Actually, I’m not sure my mom ever told me that, but that would just be because I didn’t ever lament a breakup to her, which in turn is mainly because you have to be in a relationship before you can have a breakup, and my romantic life before age 30 was a pretty damn empty pond. But never mind. I’m told that normal people get that kind of insight from their mothers as appropriate.

**But let’s remember, this is from pêcher, ‘fish’, not pecher, ‘sin’; tempting as the image may be, repechage is not ‘sinning again’.

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