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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Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

→ There’s a whole cool-sounding book about fun punctuation marks, like the @, called Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, & Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston. I will have to √ it out.

→ Almost as good as being able to sleep while doing other stuff: getting paid by science for sleeping. Science!

→ There is a Dairy Queen in New York! There is a Dairy Queen in New York! At this rate, I’ll never have to go back to the Midwest ever again.

→ Reading about the behind-the-scenes drama and near disasters surrounding the unveiling of the original iPhone reminded me of Francis Ford Coppola’s TUCKER: A MAN AND HIS DREAMS. It also helped me possibly identify the root of my many problems with the device. According to one of the engineers on the project,

“The story was that Steve wanted a device that he could use to read e-mail while on the toilet — that was the extent of the product spec.”

→ No good, except this SNL commercial for the “Bathroom Businessman“, ever came from an idea that capitalized on being able to multitask while defecating.

→ My sister sent along this story, rightly suggesting that I probably want to learn German because of all their awesome word-building. When I first learned Schadenfreude (deriving pleasure at the misfortune of others) I thought, “That’s a culture that understands me.” Now there’s a book coming out with some great (satirical) examples of German ingenuity which I may have to acquire because it looks like exactly the kind of thing which will amuse me forever.

→ Living in Barcelona as I did for five years, I’ve been to the Sagrada Família more than a few times. For over a year, I went by it at least ten times a week as it was on my way to work. I’ve foolishly climbed all the steps in it and taken lots of pictures of the inspired-by-the-natural-world details. But I’ll probably never see it completed because life’s too short and it’ll never get finished. Thankfully, there’s now a video of what it’ll probably (maybe? eventually?) look like, so I can pretend.


Word Mystery: grocery / épicerie / supermercado

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

Clearly, the title was captivated me when I saw it in my Scholastic book order catalog.

Clearly, the title captivated me when I saw it in my Scholastic book order catalog.

Grocery stores are some of my favorite places. I love prowling through the aisles and looking at all the stuff. I love the weird foods you can find in little ethnic groceries. I love the vast differences in quality, price and selection you get between any two locations. When family comes to visit, a trip to my local store is almost always on the agenda as being into food stores is apparently genetic.*

But I also just love the word grocery because it’s got good mouth-feel. (Let it roll around for a while and I’m sure you’ll agree.) Another part of my fondness for the word is connected to books I read as a kid where the town grocer was a character the kid protagonists interacted with a lot. I’m pretty sure J. D. Fitzgerald’s The Great Brain series had a person like this in them and I loved those books to pieces. Literally, the covers fell off and everything.

EN → grocery — the store of a person who sells food and small household goods. ORIGIN Middle English (originally ‘a person who sold things in the gross’ from late Latin grossus [gross].

ES  supermercado — Establecimiento comercial de venta al por menor en el que se expenden todo género de artículos alimenticios, bebidas, productos de limpieza, etc., y en el que el cliente se sirve a sí mismo y paga a la salida. [Business where goods of all kinds are sold to the public in which the customers help themselves and pay at the exit.] ORIGIN English “supermarket.”

FR  épicerie — Commerce, magasin où l’on vend des produits de consommation courante. [Business or shop where commonly used items are sold.] ORIGIN From épice [spice].

Clarification #1 — In English, a supermarket is defined as “a large self-service store selling foods and household goods.” The things which are interesting to me are “large” and “self-service” because I hadn’t really ever considered what made them “super.”

Clarification #2 — This may be an American thing, just as we prefer “stores” to the UK’s “shops,” but I use “grocery store” and “supermarket” interchangeabley. Most people I know just say they’re “going to the store” meaning, the place for food-buying. This could be a Midwesternism too, but I don’t think it’s limited to just the Central Time Zone.

Clarification #3 — That the Spanish word is the newest of the lot isn’t that surprising. It’s still very common to buy your food at multiple specialized shops and people generally go to supermarkets to stock up on shelf-stable goods like cereal and drinks. You’re always better off buying your meat, fish, fruits, veg and baked products elsewhere.

Today’s shocking verdict: English wins because this is my blog and I make the damn rules around here.

* To be fair, this may have all started when a brand new 24-hour StarMarket (Stah-Mahket) opened up in my first Boston neighborhood. The place was amazing. It had a whole made-to-order food court area inside where you could get stir fry and sushi and pasta and pizza and roasted meats with all the fixings prepped for you while you shopped. And the aisles were endless and often filled with me and my friends running up and down them having shopping cart races in the middle of the night. Now it looks totally dated and rundown, but when it was new, my she was yar.

It's hard to believe this was once a new temple at which I worshipped the food gods.

It’s hard to believe this was once the temple at which I worshipped the food gods.


Things I Did While I Didn’t Have Internet

→ Tried to remember the Greek alphabet. I got 15 out of 24 letters which is pretty good, especially considering that I never actually studied Greek. (It ain’t Latin.) Easily ten of them came to me by thinking of fraternities and sororities in teen comedies. Despite their poor academic standing, those Deltas taught me something after all!

→ Got a haircut. ‘Cause, you know, another year had gone by. (I think I need to schedule them in my calendar, ’cause I clearly need reminding.)

→ Started re-reading the A Song Of Ice And Fire series, (from which HBO’s GAME OF THRONES is adapted). I’ve gotten through 3949 of 4931 pages. There are so many hidden clues to stuff and connections to be made once you know where the story’s going. It’s even better than the first time!

→ Watched all the special features and audio commentaries on the first two seasons of GAME OF THRONES.

→ Re-watched THE SOCIAL NETWORK and then watched all the special features on the DVD (but not the two audio tracks because I can only take so much). David Fincher is one of my favorite directors.

→ LESSON: Physical media is still the best. I likely would have gone insane without actual things to keep me busy.

le guide vélo→ Pulled my bike out of deep storage and tuned it up following the advice in an awesome book I have, Le guide d’entretien de mon vélo by Peter Drinkell. I now know more words for bike parts in French than in English.

→ Got off my ass and actually rode the damn thing. It was awesome. The weather’s been ideal for biking, in the high 60s, low 70s.

→ Had my first dépannage and was able to fix it on the fly ’cause I’d read my book! Now I know to pull back on the galets by the rear cassette to put the chaîne back on the plateau! Tour de France, here I come!

→ [Cassette is the gears which explains where cassette tapes got their name. BOOM! Learning!]

→ Caught up on a podcast backlog of several months, clearing my external iTunes drive of weeks’ worth of audio. Of course, I’ll have over a month of episodes to listen to as soon as I’ve downloaded all the ones I missed, so this is kind of a wash.

→ Put all my summer shoes away in their original boxes and put those boxes in one big box labeled SHOES from which I pulled my fall shoes. There are few things I love more than fitting smaller boxes into bigger boxes, Tetris-style.

→ And, of course, I missed all you Internet people. Since I had visitors fairly constantly from July through the time my Internet connection crapped out, I’ll have to read what you’ve all been up to. I think I need a vacation just to get caught up on everything again!


Word Mystery: drown / ahogar / noyer

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?!).

lifeofpiI finally caught up with Life of Pi which I saw in English with French subtitles. Had it not been for this viewing experience, I probably never would have come upon this particular word mystery.

EN drown — (Old Norse drukkna ‘to be drowned’) die through submersion in and inhalation of water.

ES ahogar (ah-oh-gahr) — Del lat. offocāre, apretar las fauces. [From the Latin offocāre, squeeze/tighten the gullet]

FR noyer (nwah-yea) — (latin necare, faire périr) Faire mourir quelqu’un, un animal par immersion [(Latin necare, to make perish) Make a person or an animal die through means of immersion.]

One of the things I really like about the English language is its precision. One French or Spanish word can have multiple possible English translations because English seems to value nuance and exactitude. Note that only drown specifies death by water.

The Spanish ahogar has always bothered me since “choke” can also be defined this way and drowning and choking are distinctly different propositions; one is generally accidental and the other is homicidal*.

In French, you can choke on food (s’étouffer: asphyxiate oneself) or be choked (étrangler: compress someone’s throat for the purpose of blocking respiration and killing them).

Tune in for another Word Mystery soon.

On Pi: The film is visually interesting but too long and assumes that the viewer is too dense to understand the story. There is a character whose entire purpose is to carefully spell out everything that happens which takes away from the main pleasure of the story. Verdict: read the book.

*This makes me think of Michael Hutchence, the lead singer of INXS, whose death was the first time I heard about autoerotic asphyxiation. Hutchence makes me think of Bob Geldof (they had a babymamma in common) and Geldof’s daugher Peaches who shouldn’t be allowed to procreate.