Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


Stick and stones and Harry Potter

Coming across people freaking out about Tom Molvolo Riddle’s name in the French version of the Harry Potter books reminded me that baguette was one of my early bête noires. (Though in French, it would be bêtes noires and now I don’t know which to use.)

I’d warn for spoilers here, but if you don’t already know the reveal about Tom Riddle from the second Harry Potter story, you don’t care.

Harry Potter French Voldemort

As to baguettes, they are lots of things, primarily thin and flexible sticks. This means that their English counterparts include wands, batons, chopsticks, drumsticks (musical), architectural molding detail and the long, thin bread typically peeking out of grocery bags in every TV show since the mid-80s.

Potter’s been in the news this week (at least the stuff I read) since author JK Rowling “admitted” that, in retrospect, she would have had different characters end up together. This led to a flurry of posts and stories about how Frizzy Hair and Dumb As Rocks were the best couple in the history of books or how she should have ended up with World’s Most Petulant Prat. (There’s a genuinely good defense here.) You can tell that in the annals of things about which I care not at all, this is right up there.

Things about which I care a great deal however, include the proper use of the English language and recognition of homophones. “To sow” is to plant seed by scattering; “to sew” is to connect things by stitching. 

Harry Potter sewing fail


William Goldman knows what’s what

Until recently, THE PRINCESS BRIDE was my favorite movie. It’s still one of my favorite stories and a favorite soundtrack. I saw the movie twice in the theater in 1987 and have read the book at least half a dozen times. Since its release on home video, I’ve seen it (or been in a room where it was playing) significantly over 100 times. Give me a line of dialogue from the film and I can quote the rest of the movie from that point on with a high degree of accuracy.

And yet, William Goldman somehow managed to elicit a new chuckle from me. I was reading through my new 40th anniversary illustrated edition and the scene just before the epic sword fight atop the Cliffs of Insanity jumped out at me.

The Princess Bride SpaniardsIf you don’t see why this is funny, you haven’t been paying attention.

Apropos of nothing

I had a friend growing up (who’d never left the state) who’s go-to phrase when he didn’t know the answer to a question was, “Lo siento pero no tengo papel” [I’m sorry but I don’t have paper]. I always thought that was really funny.


The Postman Rang Twice (with the loot)

Because I am an experienced traveler and have developed a keen sense of when a suitcase is overweight, I took the precaution of sending myself some things from the US. As usual in such cases, I chose wisely as the package in question weighed 13.25 lbs. (6k) and my luggage allowance was 50 lbs. (23 k).

Here’s what the mailman came twice to deliver (really! He left a note the first time and the package the second):

2013 Loot from USA

→ Envelopes filled with the few actual photographs I still have. Many of them will be scanned and then shredded because I don’t believe in keeping lots of stuff.

→ The only love letter I probably won’t ever throw out. In keeping with my own twisted logic, it’s not from anyone I actually dated, nor does it contain any declaration of love but that’s why it’s my favorite.

→ A whole stack of my original Super López comics, including my favorite issue! You can tell they’re the real deal because they cost 395 pesetas! (That was just over 3 bucks back in the day.) These books have traveled more than many people.

→ An Italian phrasebook I bought in 2003 as my one defense against the rudest people on earth. It didn’t make them any nicer to me, but at least I knew I was being polite to their asshole faces.

→ On Writing Well, William Zinnser. I’m gonna master this whole expressing-with-words-on-pages thing.

→ The Big Screen, David Thomson. Books about movies are two of my favorite things in one! The only way to make them better was if they were edible.

→ Mythologies, Roland Barthes (2012 translation). I will most likely not understand anything, but I’ll try.

→ Complete Works, William Shakespeare. It is possible I have three different versions of this but I won’t know for sure until I finally unpack all my belongings and take stock.

→ My name tag from college when the locally owned video store I worked for got bought out by a chain. A friend of mine called me Brain and that’s his crappy writing on the tag.

One night, a young guy and his girlfriend came up to the counter and he looked at me, then my name tag, then to his companion and finally back at me and smirked, “Hi, ‘Brian.’ Do you have [some stupid movie I didn’t bother to register in my memory]?” To which I had to say, “Actually, it’s Brain,” and I very condescendingly ran my finger under each letter so that he could see how un-Brain he was. “And we currently have multiple copies of [whatever Hollywood crap fest] on the New Release wall. It’s that huge wall that runs the length of the store. With a neon sign. That says ‘New Releases.'” And then I smirked right back at him. God, that was the best job.


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.

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The Loot Came From London!

What’s the adjective for London? London-y? London-ish? Years ago, I would have been able to intuit this, or at least know how to find the info, but I am getting rusty. Talking to my best friend recently, I told him that I was not only having a hard time figuring out lots of words, I also wasn’t able to determine “good Google words” for them. Later in the conversation, I remembered that the phrase I should have used is “optimal search terms” and chastised him for letting my poor language skills slide.

Regardless, here’s some stuff I got from London when my family hopped the Channel, er la Manche, this summer.

London Loot

  • It’s Only A Movie, by Mark Kermode
  • The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex, by Mark Kermode
  • M&S Chocolate Mini Bites
  • M&S Chocolate Brownie Mini Bites

Kermode is the film critic for the BBC’s “flagship film programme,” the podcast of which is the highlight of my week. His latest book just came out, but I’ll be waiting for the paperback because I really dislike hardcovers. (For the record, they’re heavy, uncomfortable for in-bed reading, big, generally cumbersome.)

The M&S stuff weren’t requests, but I do love local junk foods, so they were interesting to try. The Mini Bites were fancier, mintier versions of Ho Hos, a Hostess product I’m not crazy about, so an elevated take on them seemed kinda silly. The brownies were pretty good, though they were on sale because they’d passed their sell-by date the week previous. To M&S’s credit, they actually did taste a little stale so they presumably use fresh-ish ingredients and not all chemicals. These might be worth taste-testing again.

But, wait! There’s more!

→ The words that describe the people of a place are called demonyms. The US, with its odd state names, has some good ones.

→ If you want a primer on Mark Kermode (pronounced KERH-mode), check out this great compilation of his best rants. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I lovelovelove the one for TRANSFORMERS 3. It’s got some of the best Mark-made soundeffects.