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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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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Word Mystery: frog / rana / grenouille

Michigan J. Frog

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

Lily pads make me think of frogs. That’s how simple today’s Word Mystery seemed in my head. Like many things in life, when I got into it, things got much more complicated.

EN → frog — a tailless amphibian with a short squat body, moist smooth skin, and very long hind legs for leaping. ORIGIN Old English frogga, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch vors and German Frosch.

ES → rana — Amphibia del orden de los Anuros, de unos ocho a quince centímetros de largo, con el dorso de color verdoso manchado de oscuro, verde, pardo, etc., y el abdomen blanco, boca con dientes y pupila redonda o en forma de rendija vertical. [Amphibious creature of the order Anura, about eight to fifteen centimeters long, with a greenish back stained dark, green, brown, etc. and a white abdomen, mouth with teeth and a round pupil or a vertical eye slit.] ORIGIN Latin rana [frog].

FR → grenouille — Amphibien ranidé, très commun dans les eaux douces, caractérisé par son aptitude au saut et à la nage, sa peau nue, sa pupille horizontale et son cri, le coassement. [The true frog amphibian, very common in fresh water, characterized by its ability to jump and swim, its bare (hair-less) skin, its horizontal pupil and its cry, the croak.] ORIGIN Degradation of Old French reinoille from Low Latin ranucula from Latin rana.

English note: my dictionary very helpfully reminds me that “frog” is also an “informal, offensive” term for French people. It also provides this nifty bit of information:

“Used as a general term of abuse in Middle English, the term was applied specifically to the Dutch in the 17th cent.; its application to the French (late 18th cent.) is partly alliterative, partly from the reputation of the French for eating frogs’ legs.” [snerk!]

Spanish note: this definition was super long, so I cut it. I think the RAE is really into animals as I often fall asleep halfway through reading their descriptions. It also reads horribly and would need too much reworking to make it flow better in English. I charge people good money to make stuff read pretty; in my free time, I let these things pass.

French note: A “true frog” is a thing which reminds me that “Peace Frog” by The Doors is a rockin’ tune.

Hypnotoad is watching you

Great pop culture frogs off the top of my head

  • Michigan J. Frog who I think about a lot because I love him. You can see his second Looney Tune here.
  • Kermit the Frog who concerns me because his thing with the pig is really disturbing.
  • Frogger

Honorable mention: Hypnotoad from FUTURAMA

Oh, I guess we need a winner today too, huh? I’d like to go with English since it’s the most out there and frogga seems like a fun word, but the definition kind of grossed me out. Additionally, the French is actually fun to say (just ask my nephew) and it really tried to remove itself from Latin, which I respect.


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Word Mystery: Christmas / Navidad / Noël

Wednesdays, I explore the linguistic origins of the same word in different languages. This week is all about that most rockin’ of holidays, so our WM is clear.

2013 Xmas doorTrue Story

On December 11th of 2013, I walked out my apartment and locked the door. As I pulled the key out and turned to head to the elevator, I saw my neighbor’s door and heard myself say, “Bah!”

Except for the being super-wealthy, miserable and unhappy, I am totally a Scrooge.

EN → Christmas — the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, held on December 25 in the Western Church. ORIGIN Old English Crīstes mæsse.

ES → NavidadNatividad de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo. [The birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.] ORIGIN Latin nativĭtas [of Christ, birth, nativity].

FR → NoëlFête de la naissance de Jésus-Christ. [Celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.] ORIGIN Latin natalis dies [day of birth].

English note: how much of a heathen am I that I never put together the Christ’s Mass thing? A really big one. This doesn’t even count as a rabies since there is honestly no way I will ever make religious connections on my own. Hell, I didn’t even see all the Christian messaging in The Chronicles of Narnia until I was a teenager!

Spanish note: I never liked that “lord” and “señor” are equivalents in some instances, but that’s ‘cause I don’t like anyone to think they can lord over me. I’m independent! You can’t oppress me!

French note: logical, inoffensive and not originally all Christ-y. The clear winner. So clear, you could navigate three suspiciously ethnically diverse dudes on camels by its light.


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Word Mystery: fear / miedo / peur

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

This video is one of the most charming I’ve seen in a long while. An ad for Vodaphone, it is the (purportedly) true story of two elderly women, An and Ria, who’ve never been on an airplane, flying to Barcelona.

An (the less gregarious one) begins the video with a palpable fear of flying which reminded me that “fear” is a Word Mystery. Fasten your seat belts, there may be turbulence ahead.

EN → fear — an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. ORIGIN Old English fǣr [calamity, danger].

ES → miedo — perturbación angustiosa del ánimo por un riesgo o daño real o imaginario. [Disruptive anxious mood caused by a real or imagined danger.] ORIGIN Latin metus [dread, awe].

FR → peur — sentiment d’angoisse éprouvé en présence ou à la pensée d’un danger, réel ou supposé, d’une menace. [Feeling of anxiety experienced in the presence or thought of danger, real or imagined; a menace.] ORIGIN Latin pavor [fear, panic].

Today’s winner is English because it’s not Latin and, as always with Old English, I imagine Richard Burton saying the word and it sounds super cool in my head.