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: water / agua / 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?!).

I drink tons of water every day because I have a thirst that needs quenching. Water, not the spice, is the stuff of life and the most important thing on the planet. Water covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and, in a favorite Calvin & Hobbes strip that I think about at least twice a week, water is 80% of Calvin’s body, a delicate balance he disrupts by drinking one glass too many.

EN → water — a colorless, transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid that forms the seas, lakes, rivers, and rain and is the basis of the fluids of living organisms. ORIGIN Old English wæter (noun); related to German Wasser, from Latin unda ‘wave’ and Greek hudōr ‘water.’ [Hodor?]

ES aguaSustancia cuyas moléculas están formadas por la combinación de un átomo de oxígeno y dos de hidrógeno, líquida, inodora, insípida e incolora. [Substance formed by the combination of one atom of oxygen and two of hydrogen. Odorless, tasteless, colorless liquid.] ORIGIN Latin aqua

FR eauLiquide transparent, incolore, insipide et inodore essentiel aux êtres vivants, un des éléments de base de la Terre. [Transparent colorless, tasteless, odorless liquid essential to living things. One of the basic Earth elements.] ORIGIN Latin aqua, morphed in 11th cent. to egua and ewe, in the 12th to aive, aigue, eve, then eaue. The final “e” was dropped in the 15th cent.

Tough call today, but I think French ekes out the win for most ridiculous word spelling and pronunciation as well as dumbest and slowest evolution.

Related?

→ Whoa, wait? Am I dumb or does everyone know that iocane powder and water almost share a definition? “It is odorless, tasteless and dissolves immediately in any kind of liquid. It also happens to be the deadliest poison known to man.” (Goldman, p. 93) Though, as iocane powder is lethal and water gives life, that make iocane anti-water? I’m gonna be thinking on this one for a while.

→ On a weird cultural note, I have used H2O on my grocery lists as long as I can remember and was surprised when Spanish friends didn’t know what that was. This despite the fact that they make jokes based on the Periodic Table.

→ Finally, the coolest thing that’s ever happened to water was when it was sopped up by a towel and then wrung out in space.

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Word Mystery: to be / ser / être

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?!).

chickenhamlet2The last time I was in London, a city I don’t generally care for, I went to see a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was pretty incredible and made me think that perhaps I should go back more often just to see the stories done justice by actual Brits.

Of course, my favorite of the Bard’s works is “Hamlet” primarily because it’s eminently quotable and can be interjected into everyday conversation. However, being a sick puppy, I also love it because it checks two boxes on the list of things I like in stories: the lovers are never together and everybody dies or is miserable at the end. Unhappy endings are the best.

And so, on to today’s Word Mystery, inspired by Hamlet’s most famous line, “To be, or not to be.”

EN → to be — exist. ORIGIN Old English bēon, an irregular and defective verb, whose full conjugation derives from several originally distinct verbs. The forms am and is are from an Indo-European root shared by Latin sum and est. The forms was and were are from an Indo-European root meaning ‘remain.’ The forms be and been are from an Indo-European root shared by Latin fui ‘I was,’ fio ‘I become’ and Greek phuein ‘bring forth, cause to grow.’ The origin of are is uncertain.

ES → ser — Haber o existir. [To be, to exist.] ORIGIN Latin essere [to be, to exist].

FR → être — Avoir une réalité, exister. [To be real, to exist.] ORIGIN Latin essere [to be], from Latin stare [stand].

I think English wins today’s WM, just on the basis of complexity.

Hamlet - Calvin and Hobbes