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: blackout / apagón / panne d’électricité

2 Comments

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

Things I was forced to learn learned recently include:

1. French fuse boxes don’t look like any fuse box I’ve ever seen.

Curious.

Curious.

2. French fuses come in different wattages (or whatever), look like bullets and live in little Japanese-pod beds.

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3. Spent (or used or broken or whatever) French fuses literally blow their tops off, revealing a tiny red mark that indicates they’ve gone to illumination heaven (which I imagine is actually a really dark place where they can all rest for once).

French busted fuse.

4. Those things from IKEA that look like surge protectors are actually not protecting anything.

EN → blackout — a failure of electrical power supply. ORIGIN Darkness is black. It’s not hard to figure out, people.

ES → apagónInterrupción pasajera del suministro de energía eléctrica. [Temporary interruption of the power supply.] ORIGIN Noun of apagar [turn off], from Latin pacāre [calm, mitigate].

FR → panne d’électricité — Arrêt momentané et accidentel du fonctionnement d’électricité. [Momentary and accidental shutting down of electricity.] ORIGIN Variation on penne [pen] from Latin penna [wing].

General note: all three terms refer most commonly to large-scale power outages. What happened to me recently, I remembered after thinking long and hard, was that I “blew a fuse” but that wasn’t Word Mystery fodder so out it went!

So angry, Howard. Why don't you calm down?

You’re so angry, Howard. Why don’t you calm down?

Sad note: I actually lived through a big blackout in Barcelona in July 2007 that made international news. I filmed a video of the immediate aftermath (which I’d love to share with you but WordPress wants me to pay to upload video and I refuse) because Catalan people be crazy.

Imagine the oddest reaction to massive electrical failure that you could possibly think of having. Now let me tell you what the citizens of the whole affected area did en masse — hang out their windows, just like Howard Beale wants you to, and bang on pots with wooden spoons. Other people uploaded their videos to YT and you can check some out here and see that I am not lying.

English note: disappointed again.

Spanish note: A thing about me is that telling me to “calm down” makes me super angry. This is because it’s a common thing Spanish people do and they mean it in the most condescending way possible. Suggesting that someone else is in hysterics is a great way to make oneself look infinitely superior which is a national pastime. Spain loses just for that and may get put in the penalty box for being such a jerk.

French note: I understand how “wing” became “plume” but am a bit confused about its jump to meaning cut or rupture. Maybe ’cause a wing has an articulation in it? I don’t have science, so I can’t say if that’s even true.

Today’s winner is nobody since all of these stunk. Next week better improve or I’m going to get as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!

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Author: le cul en rows

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

2 thoughts on “Word Mystery: blackout / apagón / panne d’électricité

  1. I blew a fuse in Mongolia once, and putting the situation to rights involved getting my supervisor to call the electrical company, because they were the only ones with the keys to the box, and I speak very limited Mongolian. Took the better part of two days of dark, refrigerator-less-ness.

    Re: video, YouTube is an excellent workaround. Videos are easy to embed in WP, and there’s a security setting that requires would-be viewers to have the link in order to access the video if you don’t want it to be out there on the internets all on its lonesome.

    • These are the things that never come up on lists of expected problems when you’re an expat. Good job on figuring out a solution. (I am so stubborn that I always try to do things myself which makes for great learning experiences and a lot of hard times.)

      Re: YT. This occurred to me sometime after I wrote the post and while I was Internet-less, but it seems like a hassle anyway. I’d have to create another login name and Google would track me in another forum and it didn’t seem worth it for what is actually a video without image but a lot of clanging and hooting. It makes me laugh though.

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