Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Word Mystery: flag / bandera / drapeau

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


Passerelle de Solférino (where there are “lovers locks” too), October 2013

Listening to a podcast about two of Steven Soderbergh’s recent films while crossing a bridge near the Musée d’Orsay here in Paris led to a Word Mystery double whammy: drapeaux!

The connection is that Antonio Banderas co-starred in one of the movies being discussed (Haywire) and the bridge was decorated with colorful camo-patterned flags.

EN → flag — a piece of cloth or similar material, typically oblong or square, attachable by one edge to a pole or rope and used as the symbol or emblem of a country or institution or as a decoration during public festivities. ORIGIN probably Scandinavian, related to Icelandic flag [spot from which a sod has been cut] and Old Norse flaga [slab of stone].

ES → bandera — Tela de forma comúnmente rectangular, que se emplea como enseña o señal de una nación, una ciudad o una institución. [Cloth, generally rectangular, which is used as a sign or signal of a nation, a city or an institution.] ORIGIN From old French bande [strip, band].

FR → drapeau — Pièce d’étoffe attachée à une hampe, portant l’emblème et les couleurs d’une nation, d’un groupe. [Piece of cloth attached to a pole, bearing the emblem and colors of a country or a group.] ORIGIN Previously, the word enseigne [sign] was used but in the 1750s, a word from the Italian drappello [military squad] was adopted in its place. As a historical note, the 18th century was an active one for the French armed forces.

Today’s winner: I love it when Norse shows up ’cause then I start thinking about cool words like Ragnarök and Led Zeppelin so the win goes to English. The real test will be the day a Norse root goes up against a Hebrew word. That’ll be a real Sophie’s Choice moment.

My brain also says

press-your-luck-whammy→ The Whammy on the syndicated game show Press Your Luck was animated by Savage Steve Holland, the man behind the classic 80s movies Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer.

→ “This American Life,” the popular public radio show/podcast, did an episode in 2010 (“Million Dollar Idea“) about the guy who beat the Press Your Luck system in the 80s to become the show’s biggest winner. Spoiler: he was super dedicated to cheating.

Haywire is a passably entertaining movie as long as you don’t mind an action movie that’s kind of slow. A good portion of it takes place in Barcelona (Visca! Barça!) so a significant amount of my enjoyment came from recognizing places and seeing the little architectural details that I’d forgotten (like how floors in many private homes are tiled with tiny octagonal designs). Banderas probably gives his best performance in English. Here he is having a drink in Plaça Reial where the street lights were designed by a young Antoni Gaudí.

Banderas Haywire Plaça Reial