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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In Defense of Talking Funny

This is from a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster about different ways of talkin’ American and how many of the ways which are perceived as wrong are actually just different.

harm·less drudg·ery

[Ed. note: Five months! I know. My (very poor) excuse is that I was working on another big project that I can’t tell you about yet. In the meantime, here’s an extra-long post to pay you back for the extra-long wait.]

I was talking with a friend–well, a “friend”–about some of the videos we were about to shoot for M-W. We were at a crowded, chic-chic restaurant, the type of place where the waiters pull your chair out for you and ask if you want sparkling, still, or mineral water. In short, a place far above my usual grab-and-go, paper-napkins milieu. A place where it behooves you to not only look smart, but sound smart. A place where you’d use the word “behoove.”

So I was behooving, using some expansive vocabulary and trying not to think about how I was paying $12 for a glass of wine when…

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Word Mystery: Band-Aid / tirita / pansement / plaster

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

Biking a lot means cuts and bruises. Many of the trails I’m riding are in the woods, so scrapes are something I’m having to deal with a lot more than usual. That’s why I picked up these totally cool looking scrape-cover-uppers at the store and thought, “Hmmm. Pansement‘s a weird word. I wonder what the story is there.” And now I give you the story.


EN → Band-Aid® (adhesive bandage) — an adhesive bandage with a gauze pad in the center, used to cover minor wounds. ORIGIN This product aids someone in bandaging themselves. Previous to this invention, bandaging was done by a second party.

ES → tirita®Tira adhesiva por una cara, en cuyo centro tiene un apósito esterilizado que se coloca sobre heridas pequeñas para protegerlas. [Adhesive strip on one side with a sterile pad in the center which is placed over small wounds to protect them.] ORIGIN Appears to be a portmanteau of tira adhesiva sanitaria [sterile adhesive strip]. A Catalan entrepreneur (visca Catalunya!) started selling a version of the American product in 1954.

FR → pansementEnsemble des éléments appliqués sur une plaie pour la protéger de l’infection et pour favoriser sa cicatrisation. [Combination of things applied to a wound to protect it from infection and promote healing.] ORIGIN From panser [to take care of].

Interesting trio today. The French is the only one of the three that wasn’t a registered trademark that passed into common usage. The English one actually made me think and realize something I’d never considered. The Catalan one made me happy because some dude blatantly copied something a clumsy American housewife invented and made a mint. I’m giving him the win for being an opportunist.

Sing something

When Spanish children are injured, the common thing to say to them is this little rhyme

Sana sana, culito de rana, si no sanas hoy, sanaras mañana.

[Healing, healing, little frog’s butt, if it doesn’t heal today, it’ll heal tomorrow.]

My sister was embarrassed fairly recently when some Latin American people she knows laughed at her, saying that the correct words are “colita de rana” [frog’s tail], but they’re totally wrong. The point of the song is to distract children from the pain by saying something silly and, most importantly, frogs don’t have tails. Not even the ones called “tailed frogs.”

UPDATE: As expatlingo commented, the British do indeed use “sticking plaster” instead of Band-Aid. This is because the Band-Aid was invented in the US and we wouldn’t share with them! Nah, I’m just kidding. It’s because the Brits used gauze that had been treated in a light plaster mix to protect wounds. When moistened, it would stick around the wound. Think of a plaster cast, but more flexible and less sanitary. “Plaster” comes from the Greek emplastron [daub, salve].


Great word: pyjamas

Bananas in Pyjamas is a thing that makes me & my BFF laugh.

Bananas in Pyjamas is a thing.

I was sitting at an outdoor bar near the beach in Barcelona on a sunny day like any of the hundreds I spent while living there. This particular day I was staring intently into the pint of beer in front of me, willing myself to drink it before it got warm or I threw up.

I was achingly hung over. My head hurt, my liver ached, my kidneys were screaming in protest and the air was starting to heat up like an oven. Throwing up was a very real possibility. Instead, I took a sip. It stayed down, so I took another. Feeling no additional ill effects, I gulped the rest of the beer down and felt many degrees better. Hair of the dog always does the trick, if you can stomach it.

Feeling the world come into focus again, I looked up from the table top and saw that Franc, my friend’s husband, was staring at me oddly. I met his look with my own contemplative one and he finally exploded: “Are you wearing pyjamas?!”

I was and I didn’t care who knew it. “I barely slept, I’m hungover, it’s hot as hell. It’s a miracle I showered today, so, yes, I’m wearing pyjama pants.” I considered the matter closed, but when my friend Melissa returned from the bathroom, Franc incredulously told her I was attired in sleepwear. “Oh, that’s a good idea. I wish I’d worn pajamas,” she said. Franc is South African and sometimes misunderstandings cropped up between our cultures. “What’s with you American girls?” he asked us. “You’re never embarrassed about anything!”

The truth is I’m not embarrassed very often, but it’s not because I’m American. It’s because, like Rhett Butler, I just don’t give a damn.

Think about something

Pyjama (my preferred spelling) is a unique word because it’s the same in my main languages: pajamas (US), pyjamas (UK), pyjama (FR), pyjama (ES). ORIGIN: early 19th cent.: from Urdu and Persian, from pāy [leg] + jāma [clothing.]

And, just for fun

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Word Mystery: Popsicle / polo / glace à l’eau

Word Mysteries are where words in languages that I know don’t correspond to each other at all despite those languages often sharing lexical histories. These words are both mystifying (why are they different?) and annoying (why must you be different?!).

Sometimes my fingers feel like Popsicles. They’re soft and wield to the touch but are firm in the center and won’t bend willingly. I first noticed this about four years ago in Barcelona and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It felt like my fingers had frozen cores and no matter how much I stared at them, they just wouldn’t budge.

The only mildly related pic I have. WHAK!

The only mildly related pic I have. WHAK!

It wasn’t until last year that I learned that this was a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis, something I’d probably been suffering from for a long time without realizing. (Things to know about RA include that it’s not just for old people and often affects younger women.)

Since receiving proper medical care (i.e. not Spanish), I’ve been on a series of treatment plans to see which will best suit me in the long run. Normally, I don’t feel like I have semi-frozen fingers anymore, but when the weather is as changeable as it’s been recently (one day in the 40s, the next in the 70s, then rain, then cold again), I do notice it in my knuckles, hence, today’s Word Mystery!

EN → Popsicle — a piece of flavored ice or ice cream on a stick. ORIGIN Portmanteau of “soda pop” and “icicle,” registered name. The story goes that an 11-year old left a soda out on the back porch and found it frozen (and delicious) in the morning with the stirring stick in the center.

ES polo — un helado hecho con agua, colorante, saborizante y azúcar, de forma alargada y con un palo que lo atraviesa para tomarlo. [A frozen treat made with water, coloring, flavorings and sugar into an elongated form and with a stick through it for ease of consumption.] ORIGIN Polo was also a registered trademark that has passed into common usage.

FR glace à l’eau — un dessert glacé constitué d’un bâton d’eau glacée, l’eau étant sucrée, le plus souvent colorée et aromatisée. [A frozen dessert made of a stick of frozen sugared water, often colored and flavored.] ORIGIN Glace (:ice) + eau (:water). The only way to make it more simple would be to call it “ice sugar water.”

I was surprised to learn that Popsicle is a registered trademark (and should be capitalized) and that the common term for such a frozen treat is “ice-pop.” Who the hell’s ever heard of an “ice-pop”? In my semi-defense, Popsicle, like aspirin before it, has become a genericized trademark, so the capital isn’t really necessary.

No winner today due to lack of fun.

Researching this post, I came across the phrase “let’s blow this Popsicle stand” and laughed because I hadn’t heard it in a long time. There’s a charming discussion between non-native English speakers about what this phrase means that I find more funny than propriety allows me to admit. This got me thinking about the myriad ways to express “let’s go*” in English and I was reminded of one of the recurring jokes in “Back To The Future.”

What did translators make of this line? (The original punchline is “Make like a tree and leave/leaf” which would be totally lost on most people, especially since neither “leaf” nor “leave” are pronounced even vaguely similarly in most parts of the country.)

→ For the record, off the top of my head I came up with

  • let’s motor
  • let’s blow
  • let’s roll
  • let’s rock
  • let’s get a move on
  • let’s get (the fuck) out of Dodge (presumably the notoriously lawless Dodge City)
  • vamoose (an Americanization of vámonos)
  • let’s get outta here
  • we’re Audi (see above, also “Reality Bites”)
  • Audi
  • sayonara
  • …which reminds me that in the Spanish version of Terminator 2, Ah-nuld says “sayonara” instead of “hasta la vista, baby” because Spanish people are complete idiots and insist on making themselves look even more stupid

On a personal note, I’ve favored “anem” for several years. It’s català for making like a tree…which is what I’m gonna do till tomorrow. Laters.




My best friend sent me the following video:

Cinematically, it’s really impressive, requiring really complicated camera choreography (note that you can’t see the camera reflected in any of the dozens of mirrors). The dancing, which is what he wanted me to see and be amused by, is also pretty striking but after a minute, it was the song that stood out.

“That sounds like English but it’s totally not,” I thought. The singer, Adriano Celentano, confirmed my suspicion in an interview last year:

“Ever since I started singing, I was very influenced by American music and everything Americans did. So at a certain point, because I like American slang — which, for a singer, is much easier to sing than Italian — I thought that I would write a song which would only have as its theme the inability to communicate. And to do this, I had to write a song where the lyrics didn’t mean anything.”

This reminded me that the word “barbarian” came from how the Greeks interpreted the language of foreign invaders. It all sounded like “bar-bar” to them.

According to my dictionary, the following are all ways of expressing gobbledygook in English, and they’re all great words.

gibberish, claptrap, nonsense, rubbish, balderdash, blather, garbage;

mumbo jumbo, drivel,tripe, hogwash, baloney, bilge, bull,

bunk, guff, eyewash, piffle, twaddle, poppycock, phooey, hooey.