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: strike / huelga / grève

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

Not the day in question.

Not the day in question.

Summertime in Europe means things will be closed and people will go on strike.

Last year, there was the strike by the workers at the Louvre to raise awareness of how much petty crime was happening there. (That’s the nice spin on a story that can also be read as the employees just being fed up with stupid tourists getting pick-pocketed and then coming to them to complain even though their job is to protect the art.)

Last week, the workers at the Eiffel Tower went on strike for several hours because they basically want more stuff across the board. Better pay, better hours, better job security, etc. Apparently nothing was good enough since they asked for pretty much everything except getting paid not to work at all.

Man, these French people don’t know how to appreciate a decent job with a decent wage. Here I am, writing five days a week to provide you entertainment and no one’s paying me anything. Maybe I should go on strike! Vive la France!

EN → strike — a refusal to work organized by a body of employees as a form of protest, typically in an attempt to gain a concession or concessions from their employer. ORIGIN Old English strican [make smooth, stroke, rub]. Modern meaning probably from 1700s when sailors would “strike the sails,” lowering all sails and making them smooth against the mast, as a signal that they would not go to sea.

ES → huelga — 2. Interrupción colectiva de la actividad laboral por parte de los trabajadores con el fin de reivindicar ciertas condiciones o manifestar una protesta. [Collective interruption of work by the part of the workers with the goal of demanding certain conditions or to organize a protest.] ORIGIN From verb holgar [to be idle], from Late Latin follicāre [blow, breathe].

FR → grève — Cessation collective et concertée du travail en vue d’appuyer des revendications professionnelles dont l’employeur a connaissance. [Collective work stoppage aimed at supporting worker claims about which the employer has been made aware.] ORIGIN From Place de la Grève, name of a square in Paris where unemployed factory workers would go to make themselves available for work.

English note: I was initially surprised to learn that “strike” came from a word that means “smooth” but when combined with the phrase, “strike the sails” which I had heard, it makes a lot more sense. Also surprising: there are 11 definitions for “strike.”

Spanish note: I love the word holgar and am sad I forgot it.

French note: The former Place de la Grève is now the home to the Hôtel de Ville, aka City Hall. I found two different stories about other stuff that used to go down in the square, one in English and another in French. Take both with a grain of salt.

Following on the French note: there’s a word in English for the kind of place the Place de la Grève used to be; does anyone know it? From what I’ve gathered, if you go to the parking lot of a Home Depot or similar place in the morning, there will be a bunch of guys waiting around, hoping to get some day labor gig. I can’t for the life of me remember what that’s called.

I’m not gonna lie. Spain was going to run away with the win today regardless since I’ve had the most experience with Spanish strikes and love the sound of huelga [well-gah].

Author: le cul en rows

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

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