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: ice cream cone / cucurucho / cornet

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

In the summer time, when the weather is warm…I am frequently too damn hot to eat dinner. Sometimes, half a kilo of strawberries is a meal, other times, I’ll grab a sorbet on the way home to cool myself off from the inside out.

Earlier this week, I had a scoop of citron for dinner, but it didn’t compare to the delicious cassis I used to get in Lyon after a hard ride on a sunny day.

Glorious.

Glorious.

Nothing beats cooling my brain off after sorting out a Word Mystery though (I tell myself in the hopes that it’ll be true).

EN → ice cream cone — an edible wafer container shaped like a cone in which ice cream is served. ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting an apex or vertex): from French cône, from Greek kōnos .

ES → cucuruchoPapel, cartón, barquillo, etc., arrollado en forma cónica, empleado para contener dulces, confites, helados, cosas menudas. [Paper, cardboard, wafer, etc. rolled in conical form, used to contain candies, pastries, ice cream or small things.] ORIGIN From an Italian dialect’s cucuruccio.

FR → cornetGaufrette conique que l’on garnit de glace. [Conical waffle which is filled with ice cream.] ORIGIN Diminutive of corne, this from Low Latin corna [cone, horn].

English note: the origin reminds me of a time during my ESL teaching days in Barcelona. Another teacher poked her head out of her classroom and asked if anyone knew another word for “top” to help her class complete an exercise. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said, “Tip, apex, peak, acme, zenith, summit, climax, pinnacle. Do any of those work?” Everyone around me was shocked, but they didn’t even realize the super-scary thing I’d done. As an avid crossword-puzzler, I’d listed the synonyms in ascending order of letters. My mind is a terrifying place, full of words and oddness.

Spanish note: Italian, eh? I guess ice cream came by boat to Spain. Figures. There aren’t any good native desserts there. (I think flan is yuck to the max.)

French note: this was a little bit of a cheat today since I was fairly certain going in that “cone” would have a French connection, but I make no apologies.

C’mon. Do you even have to ask who today’s winner is? Have you *tried* saying cucurucho out loud? If you do, I guarantee that it’ll be one of the best things that comes out of your mouth all day.

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Word Mystery: strike / huelga / grève

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].


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Word Mystery: prune / podar / élaguer

Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages.

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What’s the opposite of a green thumb? Typhoid Mary finger? Pathogen pinkie? Infectious digit? Whatever it is, I’ve got it. If I just look at a plant too long it’ll die even though I like plants (as long as they aren’t flowers) and I’m pro-oxygen generation.

I am totally honest with people when I take on their sublets: if they leave living things in my care, they will not survive despite my best intentions. If they want to see their precious greenery in a few months, they need to make arrangements that don’t involve me.

This is why the owner of my current domicile recently came over to tend to her garden. She had to prune some things and throw more dirt on some other things and generally aerate the dirt around a third grouping of things. All of her poking and prodding reminded me of a Word Mystery which I had not yet dug into, so let’s get our hands dirty.

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EN prune — trim (a tree, shrub, or bush) by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, esp. to increase fruitfulness and growth. ORIGIN Old French proignier [abbreviate?] possibly based on Latin rotundus [round].

ES podarCortar o quitar las ramas superfluas de los árboles, vides y otras plantas para que fructifiquen con más vigor. [Cut or remove superfluous branches from trees, vines and other plants so that they bear fruit with more vigor.] ORIGIN Latin putāre [clear up, settle, reckon, estimate, value, think, believe, suppose, hold, mean].

FR élaguerréalizer l’opération qui consiste à couper certaines branches d’un arbre. [Perform the task of cutting certain branches from a tree.] ORIGIN Norwegian laga [put in order].

Well, I’m stumped. I have no idea what to make of any of these words today.

English note: Old French references aren’t easy to come by online, so I can’t verify what proignier means, nor can I see any connection between “cutting” and “round.”

Spanish note: Putāre had a whole slew of definitions, many of them different from each other, none of which seem connected to promoting growth, horticulture, or culling. It’s also not related to puta (I checked).

French note: At least the origin word is still identifiable in the modern French word, but I think it’s kind of a stretch to say that “pruning” is “putting in order.” Maybe the win goes to France by default since the other two are so out there?

Another thing

Writing out “horticulture” made me think of Dorothy Parker. When asked to use the word in a sentence, she said, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” Snerk. She was the best.

You can read an appreciation of Parker here or just scan a list of some of her best quips here. Though in later life she disparaged the infamous group of which she was a part, her legacy is long.


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Word Mystery: shop / tienda / boutique

Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages I speak.

My German friend doesn’t like France, the French people or the French language. I suspect there are cultural and geographical things at the root of her feelings (she grew up not too far from the border) but I try not to get into it with her.

We were in Luxembourg together once, a charming place that looks like a fairy tale setting. Having missed the tourist bus, we decided to explore the city ourselves and just started walking around, looking at things. “This is what I mean!” she exclaimed as we ambled down a cobblestone street. “All of these shops say ’boutique’ just because it sounds more expensive!”

luxembourg-ville

To be fair, everything here *is* really expensive.

I had to break it to her that the shops weren’t trying to be fancy by saying they were boutiques (as she’d seen when she lived in the US), but that “boutique” was the correct word for “shop.” To her credit, she was a little bit surprised and then laughed at her own assumption.

She still isn’t buying what the French are selling, but let’s see if you’ll have some of what she doesn’t want.

EN → shop — 1) a building or part of a building where goods or services are sold; a store. ORIGIN Middle English shortening of Old French eschoppe [lean-to booth] from Dutch schoppe.

ES → tienda4) Casa, puesto o lugar donde se venden al público artículos de comercio al por menor. [House, office or other place where goods are sold to the public at retail prices.] ORIGIN Latin tendĕre [stretch, spread, extend].

FR → boutique1) Local où se tient un commerce de détail, où exerce un artisan. [Retail space or where an artisan works and sells his wares.] ORIGIN Old Provençal (Southern French dialect related to Occitan) botica from Greek apothêkê [storehouse].

English note: In the US, it’s more common to call a place to buy things a “store,” but I wrote about stores on another day and didn’t want to return to the same material. Both words are used but, try as I might, I can’t logically figure out why some combinations are more common than others. For example, I’d never say “flower store” or “butcher store” but I’d also never say “grocery shop” or “corner shop.”

Spanish note: I like that the origin calls up images of merchandise spread out to be looked at. It’s less common now, but when I was younger, most shops we went to in Spain had all of their wares displayed in the windows and you looked from outside and only entered if you’d identified something you wanted. The arrangements were meticulous and required innumerable pins and layering and tiny prices next to sets of items. It was really something.

French note: Another good origin. If pressed, I would have guessed that “apothecary” was Greek, but I’ve only ever thought of it in conjunction with the man who gives Romeo the sleeping potion and assumed that it meant “pharmacist” or “olde tyme medicine man.” Color me wrong and corrected.

Catalan note: the word’s botiga, and like so many Catalan words I know, it’s my favorite of the bunch.

Today’s Winner could be any of the three, really. I like all of the stories and especially like that there is so much cross-polination represented and so many different ideas evolving slowly to be one thing… but, just because my friend gives them such a hard time, I’m going to give it to the French.


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Word Mystery: slipper / zapatilla / chausson

Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages I speak.

Last summer, my sister bought me these slippers while she was in Paris.

FLASH slippersShe did this because everyone in my family loves slippers, they were on sale (we love good deals) and when I saw them, I said, “FLASH! Ahh-ah!”

Flash tweetI’m not the only one who does this last thing (see tweet at right), but I may be the only person who does it who doesn’t like Queen and who can’t remember having seen FLASH GORDON (1980), the movie whose theme song‘s chorus I repeat every time I see lightning bolts.

You know what else is like a flash of light? Realizing that I wear a Word Mystery every day.

EN → slipper — a comfortable slip-on shoe that is worn indoors. ORIGIN From Middle English slip [move quickly and softly].

ES → zapatillaZapato de comodidad o abrigo para estar en casa. [Comfortable or warm shoe for use in the house.] ORIGIN Diminutive of zapato [shoe] from Turkish zabata [shoe].

FR→ chaussonChaussure d’intérieur, souple et légère. [Light and flexible indoor shoe.] ORIGIN Variation on chausser [to put on shoes] from the past participle of Latin calceare [to put on shoes].

Spanish note: The Spanish verb calzar also comes from the Latin and has the same meaning as the French. Interesting that all the related words, like those for “footwear” [calzado] and “bare foot” [descalzo] and “sock” [calcetín] in Spanish share the same root tree as the French, but that it strayed so far in one instance.

Man, I’ve got to hand it to Spanish for fairly consistently coming up with crazy origins (that’s why it’s Today’s Winner). This is the first time Turkish has appeared in a Word Mystery and is probably the first time I’ve ever thought about the language of the Ottoman Empire.

About those slippers

The ones pic’d above have been made in France since 1947 by a company called Collégien. On the packaging, which is basically a cardboard hanger from which the slippers are suspended, it says that these are a classic indoor shoe worn in schools since forever. I figured they were being hyperbolic but a visit to a friend’s house over the holidays suggested otherwise.

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All five people who were staying there had their own pair and there were a few for guests as well. They’re really comfy (though they offer zero arch support) and nice and toasty and are also good for doing yoga since they have soft spiked soles. They don’t get this site’s highest award, but I’ll give ’em the ole T-800 salute.