Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Leave a comment

Word Mystery: blister / ampolla / cloque

My first blister(s) from 2013. Doesn't it look like my heel is giving you a wry smirk?

My first blister(s) from 2013*. Doesn’t it look like my heel is giving you a wry smirk?

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

It’s safe to say that spring has definitely arrived in la petite couronne. It’s not just that I closed out the Winter playlist, nor that the sun came out. It’s not even that the constant rain of the last season let up. The real sign came when I went out for a bit and, deciding that the day was much too nice to keep to my arranged schedule, I spent the whole afternoon walking around. As I hadn’t been planning on being so active, I hadn’t dressed accordingly which meant that a big blister formed on the ball of my foot. Skin soft and weak from months of being coddled needs to learn fast that the times, they have a’ changed.

EN → blister — a small bubble on the skin filled with serum and caused by friction, burning, or other damage. ORIGIN Middle English, perhaps from Old French blestre [swelling, pimple].

ES → ampollaElevación local de la epidermis por acumulación de fluido. [Raised area on the skin which has risen in response to being filled with fluid.] ORIGIN Latin ampulla [small accident, round jug with two handles].

FR → cloquePetit gonflement de la peau produit par une brûlure, une piqûre, un frottement. [Small swelling of the skin produced by a burn, a bite or friction.] ORIGIN Permutation of cloche [bell] in the Normand and Picard dialects where the Latin sound /k/ hasn’t been transformed into /ʃ/ [“sh”].

FYI: do not do an image search for “blister.” There is some nasty stuff out there.

English note: the dictionary said “perhaps,” but if there’s an old word blestre that means swelling, it seems like a pretty good bet to me.

French note: Blisters are also called ampoules in French, but I already wrote about them once, so I went with this version. In both cases, the word is used to refer to a thing that contains or is filled with liquid. Interestingly, ampoules are also light bulbs but this seems like a case of “one of these things is not like the others.”

French note 2: I like this definition best. It’s precise and lovely.

Today’s winner is English since it’s a dedicated word.

* My first blister from 2014 will be used to illustrate another post. Don’t all get too excited at once. That one’ll be a bit gross for people who are sensitive to such things but awesomely informative to those who like practical knowledge.


Leave a comment

Word Mystery: sequin / paillette / lentejuela

Some Topshop frock.

Some Topshop frock.

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

There is pretty much no scenario in which I can organically talk about sequins, so the week following when a bunch of people wore them in Hollywood seemed like the only possible way to get this trio, the third on my list of almost 140 Word Mysteries, into the mix.

Get your dancing shoes on and shimmy on over to the learnin’.

EN → sequin — 1 a small, shiny disk sewn as one of many onto clothing for decoration. 2 (historical) a Venetian gold coin. ORIGIN From second sense, this, chronologically from Arabic sikka [a die for coining], to Arabic zecca [a mint/place for coining metal] to Italian zecchino [pure gold coin].

ES → lentejuelaPlancha, pequeña y redonda, de metal u otro material brillante, que se cose en los vestidos como adorno. [Small, round piece of flat metal or other shiny material which is sewn on clothes as decoration.] ORIGIN Diminuative of lenteja [lentil], this from Latin lenticŭla [freckle, lentil].

FR → paillettePetite lamelle de matière brillante servant d’ornement sur les vêtements. [Small piece of shiny material which serves as decoration on clothing.] ORIGIN From paille [straw], this from Latin palea [chaff, husk].

English note: Ooooh, I like it when there’s a clear progression between the original word and the modern one. It should be noted that sequins are probably only slightly less heavy than actual gold coins.

Spanish note: This makes sense to me, though I would never attach lentils to my person.

French note: A bit confused by this one. I guess that maybe if you slice a piece of straw, you’re left with something small, round and kind of decorative. If you attached a bunch of them together, they might even make a sound like sequins do, but they won’t shimmer and shine.

Today’s winner, despite how I feel about lentils, is English because I really like the idea of just strapping one’s money to oneself to show off.


1 Comment

Word Mystery: hug / abrazar / étreindre

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

Click me.

Click me.

One of the more American things about me is that I do not like physical contact very much. I have my dance space, you have your dance space. If I’m in line for something, I have an invisible bubble around me that I don’t want to share with you. When I meet someone for the first time, I want them to be satisfied with a handshake or a nod.

None of these personal desires count for anything over here. There is so much touching all the time. If I actually think about it, I feel a little sick because people just do not wash their hands enough and I don’t know where anyone’s mouth’s been and it’s just too gross to actually think about.

Everyone is so hell-bent on physicality that they even sign off written correspondence with assaults on your person. Initially, it was too much for me. Reading a message from someone I barely knew that ended un abrazo made me recoil a bit because I felt like they were invading my space through the screen.

Now, let me encroach upon your personal space by spreading my digital arms around your brain and massaging some knowledge into your gray matter.

[General note: these are only the verbs forms and not the nouns or more colloquial ways of expressing this idea.]

EN → hug — hold someone tightly in one’s arms, typically to express affection. ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: probably of Scandinavian origin and related to Norwegian hugga [comfort, console].

ES → abrazar —  ceñir con los brazos. [Encircle in/with arms.] ORIGIN Brazo [arm] from Latin brachĭum [arm].

FR → étreindreserrer quelque chose, quelqu’un, le saisir fortement en l’entourant de ses membre, empoigner. [Hold something or someone, hold tightly in one’s arms, grasp.] ORIGIN Latin stringere [draw tight].

English note: “Hugga” should be the name of some cozy brand of clothes, like the OnePiece which I just learned about and am in love with.

Spanish note: I am surprised to learn that brazo has no connection to “branch” or “bronchi”. In my mind, they were all kind of related in an abstract way.

French note: I don’t speak Latin, so I’m not sure how one would pronounce stringere properly, but it bears commenting that Stringer Bell was wont to draw things tight.

Today’s Winner is English, since it’s the only one that’s kinda fun.

Not all hugs are terrible

Shel Silverstein, the writer and illustrator, bears mentioning here for his poem “Hug O’ War”. I’ve always loved his books and am pleased that there are no dark secrets in his life to taint the memory of his work.


10 Comments

Word Mystery: butterfly / mariposa / papillon / farfalla

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

Special request Word Mystery today from a friend of the family (hi Daniel!), so I don’t have an elaborate expat-related setup, but I do have a weird personal anecdote.

photo: Robyn Stacey

photo: Robyn Stacey

My BFF and I decided a million years ago that “butterfly” would be our code word for “help” in any situation. If one of us couldn’t remember another person’s name while talking to them, we’d mention how odd it was that we’d seen a butterfly earlier that day and the other would come to the rescue. If one of us was in a place we didn’t want to stay, we’d casually drop the insect into the conversation and the other person would make an excuse to get us both out of there.

Once this pattern was established, though thousands of miles away from each other, I kept on using “butterfly” as a password. When moving into a new apartment once, we only had one set of keys for three of us over the weekend, so we left them in an envelope in the bar downstairs. (This was in Barcelona, so a bar is really a coffee shop that also sells beer.) I immediately suggested that “mariposa” be the code word to write on the envelope and that the cashier would demand to anyone picking up the keys. It’s the perfect word for all kinds of situations since it’s innocuous, not commonly said, and, as Bart Simpson learned years after I had, “Nobody ever suspects the butterfly.

EN → butterfly — an insect with two pairs of large wings that are covered with tiny scales, usually brightly colored, and typically held erect when at rest. ORIGIN Oooooh, a dispute! One version has it as Old English, from butter + fly, possibly because of the color and/or an old belief that the insects stole butter. Another says that it’s Old English butorflēoge, perhaps a compound of butor [beater] + flēoge [fly].

ES → mariposaInsecto lepidóptero. [Lepidopteran insect.] ORIGIN Mari + posa, Jesus’s mother and verb form of posar [to rest] from Latin pausāre [to rest, pause].

FR → papillonForme adulte des lépidoptères, à l’exception des mites et des teignes. [Adult lepidopterans, excluding moths and mites.] ORIGIN Latin papilio [butterfly, moth].

IT → farfallainsetto dell’ordine dei Lepidotteri con ali dal colore variegato. [Insect of the order Lepidoptera with wings of various colors.] ORIGIN Lombardic dialect (northern Italy/southern Germany), evolved from parpaja, parpalhos.

English note: what fun! The first is definitely a better story but the second makes the most sense.

Spanish note: what a totally disappointing definition, especially considering the great lengths they went to with “turkey.”

Papillon McQueenSpanish note 2: what the hell, Origin? Seriously, I am asking you to explain what the Virgin Mary and resting have to do with an insect, ’cause I’m not seeing it. You should be ashamed of yourself for being so willfully obtuse.

French note: PAPILLON was the first Steve McQueen movie I ever saw. I never understood why he was a sex symbol. He’s got the face of a boxer.

Italian note: The evolution may not seem obvious but /f/ and /p/ are very close sounds.

Italian note 2: I don’t speak Italian. I don’t pretend to speak Italian. I don’t even like Italian. As stated above, this post was a request, one to specifically include the Italian word.

Today’s Winner has to be English, right? It’s got two very good possible origin stories and isn’t religious or Latin, so I’m going with that.

Related in my mind

I held the fastest record in my junior high for being able to recite the ranks of biological/taxonomic classification (while still being understood). This is super useful in Jeopardy!-type situations and not at all the rest of the time. For the record, it’s kingdomphylumclassorderfamilygenusspecies. I can still do it under two seconds, so I must have been even faster way back when.


Leave a comment

Word Mystery: tool / herramienta / outil

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

301 pieces of SUPER FUN TIMES

301 pieces of SUPER FUN TIMES

Tools are among my favorite things. I think this is because tools have a specific, defined, useful and practical purpose. Tools are either good, or they’re not. They work as advertised, or they don’t. Sure, you can get fancy tools, but just ’cause they’re expensive doesn’t mean they’ll work any better. You’ve gotta respect tools for being that straightforward.

You’ve also gotta respect ’em ’cause they make you learn a new word for them in every language, the sly devils.

EN → tool — a device or implement, esp. one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function. ORIGIN Old English tōl, from a Germanic base meaning “prepare”.

ES → herramientaInstrumento, por lo común de hierro o acero, con que trabajan los artesanos. [Instrument, typically iron or steel, with which artisans/craftsmen work.] ORIGIN Latin ferramenta [iron trader].

FR → outilObjet fabriqué, utilisé manuellement ou sur une machine pour réaliser une opération déterminée. [Fabricated object used manually or by a machine to perform a given task.] ORIGIN Latin ŭsitīlium [necessary objet, furniture, utensil] derived from ūti [make use of, be used].

As usual, Spanish disappoints, this time by coming from a fairly straightforward Latin word. French surprises with the information that the Romans classed all practical items used on a regular basis together. I like this idea, as well as its further root, since that also speaks to practicality (one of the tenets of my religion).

But today’s winner is English because “tool” does not come from Latin and because when Germans prepare for stuff, they mean business, which is another of the foundational principles of my way of living.