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: brother / hermano / frère


Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages I speak.

Oh, brother. Here we go.

Oh, brother. Here we go.

“Brother” may become verboten along with some other words on this blog because it’s been popping up too often recently in really annoying ways, like how my post about THE GOONIES reminded me that I hadn’t yet covered it as a Word Mystery. My feelings about it are currently like my general rabies sensation except angry. I’m hoping that by exposing it, it’ll go away.

EN → brother — a man or boy in relation to other sons and daughters of his parents. ORIGIN Old English brōthor, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch broeder and German Bruder.

ES → hermano — Persona que con respecto a otra tiene el mismo padre y la misma madre, o solamente el mismo padre o la misma madre. [Person who, with respect to another, has the same father and mother, or only the same father or mother.] ORIGIN Latin germānus [genetic “blood” brother].

FR  → frère — Garçon né du même père, de la même mère, ou des deux mêmes parents que la personne considérée. [Boy born to the same father, same mother, or who shares the same parents as another.] ORIGIN Classic Latin frater [brother].

Thoughts on today’s Mystery

Only the French definition concedes both that people not related by blood could be brothers (adopted, foster, etc.) and that parents could be either a mother or a father or possibly a different combination of genders.

Today’s winner is English just so the damn word will leave me alone! Now, git!

Something more interesting?

When I first started teaching ESL, the sentence “How many brothers and sisters have you got?” bothered me a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever posed that question in that way. It’s way too long for starters and totally unnecessary when English has a perfectly good word — sibling — that encompasses both genders (and saves time). That Romance languages insist on making all groups of mixed gender things male pisses me off since it’s misleading and generally uncool to marginalize just over half of the world’s population.


The seed of the plant is one of my favorite things, but the comic Peanuts is super sad. Like anyone who was a kid and used to read it, I thought it was a fun and touching strip about a boy and his dog, but when I read Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis a few years ago, it made me reconsider everything I’d thought about it. Charles Schulz was a deeply unhappy person and the story of his life will either make you feel better about yourself (you can’t be as miserable as he was) or worse (all his success still didn’t bring him happiness).

At least he gave us Snoopy dancing.

Author: le cul en rows

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

2 thoughts on “Word Mystery: brother / hermano / frère

  1. Is it wrong that I loved Peanuts because it was so misanthropic? I mean, I want every child now to see the movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown because it’s one of the most beautifully-animated movies, but it has a really poignant message at the end that hits me right in the feels even if it isn’t the triumphant ending most children’s movies have as a rule.

    But I just loved the world-weariness of the strip and while I don’t need to know more about Charles Schulz (except he died on the day his last original Sunday strip was published), you can tell he was overcome at times by melancholy. There’s a special that they made after Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown in which they visit Normandy and then they visit Flanders Fields and Linus recites “In Flanders Fields” and afterward he asks “what have we learned, Charlie Brown?”

    • It’s not wrong, I was just surprised because as a kid, I didn’t pick up on most of that stuff. And all the Rosebud references went over my head, but the biography points out that there were a ton and the Schulz identified with CFK/WRH’s legacy in ways that are just really sad.

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