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?!).
Yesterday’s post about T. J. Eckleburg and his awesome eyes reminded me of a Word Mystery that I hadn’t even put on the list yet! And it’s one of my favorites!
CAT → mussol — Ocell d’aspecte rodanxó, de color terrós i blanc, sedentari i que s’alimenta de petits vertebrats i insectes. [Round-looking earth- and white-colored bird which feeds on small vertebrates and insects.] ORIGIN 13th cent. possibly Latin molle (smooth) from the lack of horns.
EN → owl — Nocturnal bird of prey with large forward-facing eyes surrounded by facial disks, a hooked beak, and typically a loud call. ORIGIN Old English ūle, of Germanic origin Eule, from a base imitative of the bird’s call.
ES → búho — Ave rapaz nocturna, de color mezclado de rojo y negro, con el pico corvo, los ojos grandes y colocados en la parte anterior de la cabeza, sobre la cual tiene unas plumas alzadas que figuran orejas. [Nocturnal bird of prey, of red and black mixed colors with curved beak, and large eyes located in the anterior part of the head upon which there are vertical feathers which look like ears.] ORIGIN Common Latin bubo [horned or eagle owl].
FR → hibou — Rapace nocturne existant sous diverses espèces, généralement caractérisé par des aigrettes sur le front, un bec crochu, de gros yeux ronds tournés vers l’avant, réputé pour son cri et pour nicher dans un trou ou un nid abandonné. [Noctural predator generally chracterized by sticking-out feathers on its head, a curved beak, large round forward-facing eyes, known for its cry and tendency to nest in holes or abandoned nests.] ORIGIN possibly onomatopoetic from the sound the animal makes houhou.
Catalan wins as mussol is one of my favorite words. It’s super fun to say. Moosoul! Moosoul!
→ Mussol is the name of a local chain restaurant in the Barcelona area. It’s a take on a typical Catalan country house (masia) and the food you’d find therein. It’s highly affordable and all the locations have open fire pits where much of the food is prepped in the traditional style. The menu changes with the seasons and always features whatever the classic dish of the moment is (like calçots). There’s one just a few minutes away from the owl on Diagonal. (map)
→ Growing up in the 80s as I did, owls make me think of Tootsie Pops, even though I really don’t like Tootsie Pops. Or Tootsie Rolls. Or Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie for that matter. (The depiction of women is pretty offensive.)
→ When I was teaching English and “owl” came up, I’d always say that it’s an animal frequently featured wearing glasses and being really smart. Everyone knew what I meant which speaks to the pervasive power of Disney.
→ While not technically about owls, the Portlandia sketch “Put A Bird On It” must have been inspired by how many owls are on cutesy-hipster crafts these days (proof). If you’re in the US, you can watch it here. If you’re not in the US, you already know how to get around such restrictions.