Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


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Word Mystery: swell / hinchar / gonfler

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

Christmas in July was a bit of a joke on my part, but that week ended up being cold enough in Paris that I ran the heat for a couple hours when I got home every night. The following week, it was back to games of sweaty sardines on the Metro, sweaty shirts on the sidewalks and sweaty feet stuck in sweaty shoes. I had to take two showers every day because when I got home, I had to clean the grime off myself as well as cool my body temperature down.

This is a bad way to feel.

One of the most unpleasant side effects of being so overheated is that my feet and fingers swell up a ton. They looked like overstuffed-sausage — so much so that I wondered if I was going to split open like so many failed sausages do on cooking shows. I didn’t want that to happen so I did the only thing I could think of: put bags of frozen loose vegetables like peas and beans on all my body parts and hope like hell that they returned to their normal dimensions.

Now, the bloating’s gone down enough that I can type so everything’s back to being just plain swell.

EN → swell — become larger or rounder in size, typically as a result of an accumulation of fluid. ORIGIN Old English swellan related to German schwellen.

ES → hincharHacer que aumente de volumen algún objeto o cuerpo, llenándolo de aire u otra cosa. [Making the volumen of a thing or body enlarge, by filling with air or something else.] ORIGIN Latin inflāre [inflate].

FR → gonflerAugmenter le volume de quelque chose en le remplissant d’un gaz, d’un fluide. [Increasing the volume of a thing by filling it with air or a fluid.] ORIGIN From Latin conflare [increase through breath].

English note: is it the Yiddishloving American in me that always wants a schw- word to win? Maybe it’s just that I saw SPACEBALLS too many times.

Spanish note: words that begin with “h” always throw me since they don’t seem native to the language. Seeing the Latin root totally demystified this one. Way to take all the fun out of life, Latin.

French note: the origin said it was a “dialectical word” which doesn’t make much sense to me. I think it means “related to a dialect” which makes way more sense than “dialectical” but what do I know? (Answer: seriously little.)

Spanish and French note: both words are also used to mean “pump with air.”

Due to its specificity and its German roots, English is taking the prize home today.

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What’s in a bodega?

An interesting international discussion cropped up around my shop Word Mystery post regarding what exactly a bodega is. For me, it falls into the category of words (I should come up with a name for them) that mean totally different things or are completely unconnected in my mind depending on what accent they’re pronounced in. Reading it in an English context, I immediately think of New York City corner stores. In a Spanish voice, I go to wine cellars or pantry-type rooms.

GIF by Nathan Pyle

GIF by Nathan Pyle

By a weird coincidence, The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC did a segment about bodega cats that I heard right around the time this conversation was happening. It’s more cute than informative but if you’ve been to an NYC bodega, you’ve met one of these cats.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, these are cats who live in convenience stores. Many NYC bodegas have them (the one near where my sister lives likes to sit on my nephew’s head) and they are, in fact, illegal. During the course of the conversation, it’s revealed that the fines for having a cat in a food shop are essentially equivalent to the ones for having rodents so it’s a wash.

If you have a few moments, you should scroll through the listener-submitted photos of their favorite bodega cats — it’s such a funny and weird collection and I somehow love the hashtag #bodegacat more than anything else right now.

Other amusing things for the day

Today’s GIF was part of a promotional campaign that Nathan Pyle did for his book about how to be in NYC. He has also designed some of my favorite things online, like another Schrodinger’s cat joke and a clever ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT joke. If you need a laugh, you should look through his stuff. Bonus: so many PRINCESS BRIDE jokes.


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Word Mystery: go / ir / aller

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

go forrest goChalk this up to another Word Mystery I should have gotten to a lot sooner, but I am most likely to miss things that are obvious, so it’s not that surprising. What may be a surprise is the end result. Hey! Ho! Let’s go!

EN → go —move from one place or point to another; travel. ORIGIN Old English gān related to Dutch gaan and German gehen; the form “went” was originally the past tense of “wend.”

ES → ir —Moverse de un lugar hacia otro apartado de quien usa el verbo ir y de quien ejecuta el movimiento. [Move oneself from one place to another, the verb is used by the person executing the movement.] ORIGIN Latin ire [flow, go, walk].

FR → aller — Se mouvoir d’un lieu vers un autre, s’y rendre. [Move oneself from one place to another, go there.] ORIGIN Low Latin allare from Classic Latin ambulare [take oneself for a walk].

General note: it seems incredibly unfair to me that the most basic verbs are frequently irregular. It’s like languages don’t even want people to have a fighting chance!

English note: I like crazy conjugation stories. Also, you do not want to know how many trigger words and phrases (definitely hundreds, possibly more) make me think of FORREST GUMP. It’s my #1 movie that I don’t like that I know by heart.

French note: So, aller is basically an early form of flâner? Yes, please.

Today’s Winner: Clearly, French, not just ‘cause it gave me the most trouble when I was learning it for the first time as a wee lass, but ‘cause it’s the least driven, which makes it ironic in a way.


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Friday FAILs

My best friend suggested I start a Tumblr about all the mistakes I come across because he thinks it’s hilarious how annoyed I get. If I did such a thing, I would never leave the Internet or get out of my pyjamas because I would become totally obsessed with documenting all the mistakes everywhere.

Instead, I’ll just post some every once in a while. Maybe they’ll lead you to read a story you may have missed or introduce you to a new site that may have better writers on staff. Maybe you’ll just commiserate with me about What The World Is Coming To and we can all go back to lamenting the Good Old Days.

NYT: “can add” or “can offer.” This is clearly a mistake in the proofreading. It was written one way, edited to be the other and no one went back to make sure it still worked. 

FAIL NYT add offer

The Hollywood Reporter falls victim to one of the common mistakes. The way to check for these is SO EASY. Replace “there” with “here.” If it kind of makes sense, it’s okay. If it doesn’t, replace with “his / her.” If that works, “their” is right. If you can’t deal with contractions (“they’re”), go out behind the building and throw yourself in a dumpster because you are garbage. 

FAIL THR their

⇒ Tell me, Washington Post: is it Panisse (highlighted) or Pannise (just below)? (Hint: you were right the first time.) 

FAIL WP Panisse

⇒ Hello, Washington Post? Is anybody there? Sentences that begin question word + auxiliary verb + subject + verb are, in fact, questions. These types of sentences end with, you know, an interrogative mark and not a space and then a close quote. 

FAIL WP Good Wife

⇒ And a story about how Entertainment Weekly is moving to unpaid user-generated content offers insight into why this kind of non-existent editing will become more common in the future. It turns out that how quickly EW can implement this new idea will be partly based on how much money it’s going to cost them to automate editing. Because who needs humans