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: street / calle / rue


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

A Paris street (technically an avenue, whatever). Nov. 2013

A Paris street (technically an avenue, whatever). Nov. 2013

At this point in my Word Mystery game, I’m starting to think that I should take a beginner’s language book and go through the vocabulary, looking for the most basic mysteries. Why? Because I had somehow not gotten around to “street,” an elementary word in modern life. At least yesterday’s look at how dumb I am streets here in Paris finally got me on the right track.

Please check your side- and rear-view mirrors before proceeding.

EN → street — a public road in a city or town, typically with houses and buildings on one or both sides. ORIGIN Old English strǣt, from Latin strāta [paved way].

ES → calleEn una población, vía entre edificios o solares. [In a populated area, the way between buildings and vacant lots.] ORIGIN Latin callis [trail, path].

FR → ruevoie de circulation routière aménagée à l’intérieur d’une agglomération, habituellement bordée de maisons, d’immeubles, de propriétés closes. [Throughways arranged inside a populated area, usually bordered by houses, buildings or closed lots.] ORIGIN Latin ruga [line, wrinkle].

This is another word / concept that I’d never thought to define before, but reading through these it totally makes sense that a street is something you’ll find only in a semi-planned, urban-type setting. Out in the country, there are roads, routes and highways but no streets.

It’s also one of the few Word Mysteries where all the languages have Latin roots, even if they’re totally different ones. I would venture to guess that the English root is the most recent and is due to the Romans introducing the concept of paving to the Anglo-Saxon world. (The Romans loved building roads and any other kind of urban improvement projects.) The Spanish and French would have evolved more naturally from the natural paths that people and animals made as they shuffle around this mortal coil.

Today’s winner is Latin, especially since I can’t decide which evolution of the idea I like best.

Author: le cul en rows

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

2 thoughts on “Word Mystery: street / calle / rue

  1. Very interesting that all 3 take their origin in Latin but from different words. Languages are indeed fascinating!

    • I’m glad you found it interesting too. This post has inspired me to go back through all the WMs and make a tag to keep track of how many Latin roots appear each week. (As if I didn’t have enough things to keep me busy.)

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