Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

Word Mystery: bleach / lejía / eau de Javel


Word mysteries are where words in languages that I know don’t correspond to each other at all despite those languages often sharing lexical histories. These words are both mystifying (why are they different?) and annoying (why must you be different?!).

bleachMan, that flu really knocked me on my ass. I was basically useless for six days, a personal record, and went through a box and a half of Puffs. When I’m sick, I just sit and blow my nose all day and then throw the tissues on the floor because I’m sick, dammit! This means that once I’m better, I have a lot of picking up to do, but for good measure, I also like to sanitize the hell out of my living space. If I could, I’d boil everything (myself included) to make sure that every germ was killed and not coming back, but as that’s an impossibility, I turn to the two next best disinfectants: lemon cleaning products and bleach… bringing us to today’s Word Mystery.

EN → bleach — a chemical (typically a solution of sodium hypochlorite or hydrogen peroxide) used to whiten or sterilize materials. ORIGIN before 1050; Middle English blechen, Old English blǣcean, derivative of blāc (pale); cognate with Old Norse bleikja, Old High German bleichēn

ES lejíaAgua en que se han disuelto álcalis o sus carbonatos. [Water into which alkaloids or its carbonates has been dissolved.] ORIGIN Latin lixīva: made into lye).

FR eau de Javel eau chlorée employée comme blanchissant et comme désinfectant. [Chlorinated water used as a whitener and as a disinfectant.] ORIGIN From Javel, former village outside Paris, now in the 15th district, where a chemical factory was located.]

This is one of the coolest Word Mysteries so far. Not only does each language offer a different origin, but the French one has a geographically specific one. That means a map! Here is the Quartier de Javel, located at the 8 o’clock position in the Paris-as-a-clock-face configuration. I haven’t been over to the 15th in ages, but I’ll make a point of going there when the weather gets nicer to look for the site of the original chemical factory.

Quartier javel

Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

5 thoughts on “Word Mystery: bleach / lejía / eau de Javel

  1. As often, I have learned something today. I didn’t know that the word Javel came for the name of a former village. I don’t often go to the 15e but I really ought to…(Suzanne)

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