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: box / caja / boîte

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I own one chair. That's all the furniture I've got.

I own one chair and a helluva lot of boxes.

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

It’s moving time again, so my life has become about boxes and packing and rediscovering things long forgotten. (Someday I will share with you how many brand new spatulas I own. You will be as shocked as I was unless you also have more than a dozen of the same unused kitchen item.)

EN → box — a container with a flat base and sides, typically square or rectangular and having a lid. ORIGIN Old English, via Latin from Greek puxis [small box].

ES → cajaRecipiente que, cubierto con una tapa suelta o unida a la parte principal, sirve para guardar o transportar en él algo. [Container which, open or with a lid (separate or part of its construction) is used to keep or transport something.] ORIGIN Latin capsa.

FR → boîtecontenant rigide en bois, carton, métal ou matière plastique, avec ou sans couvercle, dans lequel on met des objets ou des produits divers. [Stiff container made of wood, cardboard, metal or plastic, with or without a cover, in which one puts things or various products.] ORIGIN Latin buxeti [grove of boxwood trees] from Greek puksis [small box].

What? I have no idea what’s happening here. It’s a truly baffling day when the Spanish word is the most logical of the bunch.

Additional confusion: the English and French both come from the same word but are spelled differently. This is apparently acceptable, I’d guess partly because the Greek alphabet doesn’t have a 1: 1 with the Roman one, but also maybe because there weren’t standard spellings of things in Ancient Greece. (At least, that’s the impression I get from books like David Crystal‘s which feature cabals of academics / priests deciding how things will be written.)

Botanical note: I am very bad with plants and don’t know the names of most green growy things, so I never considered that boxwood trees are trees with good, hard wood that people used to make boxes out of. Sometimes, if you don’t look too hard, English is totally easy. Other times, not so much.

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Author: le cul en rows

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

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