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: slug / babosa / limace

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

Thinking of my Consistency Rule led me to critically consider the things I don’t eat. Most fall under the subheading Slimy with a cross-reference to both Icky and Gross. Things like oysters, mussels, squid, octopus, cockles, clams, snails. These are all things I’ve eaten at least once as a child and as an adult and, until recently, I would have told you that thing they have in common is that I Do Not Like Them One Bit.

But it turns out that they’re all mollusks, so I can now say I don’t eat mollusks instead of saying I only eat some shellfish (scallops, shrimp, crab, etc. are okay).

I can also say that the only creatures I was ever intentionally mean to were mollusks since I used to sprinkle salt on slugs on my grandparents’ farm and watch them squirm. In my defense, I did this because slugs are the most disgusting things in the world and if you’re a stupid tomboy who runs around in the wild and happens to come into contact with one, you will have their nasty slime all over you for hours and then someone will literally take a rock with soap on it to your skin to scrub it off and it will hurt like hell and you’ll wish all the damn slugs in the world were dead because you’re raw all over and pissed. When this happens to you regularly, you start to take matters into your own hands, preemptively destroying all potential slime-inflicters before they get you.

EN → slug —  a tough-skinned terrestrial mollusk that typically lacks a shell and secretes a film of mucus for protection. ORIGIN probably from Norwegian dialect slugg [large heavy body].

ES → babosaMolusco gasterópodo pulmonado, terrestre, sin concha, que cuando se arrastra deja como huella de su paso una abundante baba. [Shell-less terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusk which, when it drags itself, leaves a trail of abundant slime.] ORIGIN Noun/adjective form of baba [drool, slobber] from Latin baba.

FR → limaceMollusque terrestre sans coquille. [Terrestrial mollusk without a shell.] ORIGIN Common Latin limacea from Classic Latin limus, both meaning “snail; slug.”

I like that the French definition is totally dismissive, like they don’t even deserve to be in a dictionary. Je suis d’accord, but the win goes to Spanish in honor of all the babosas I killed. (Still not sorry about it.)

*In care you’re confused (which you probably should be)

There was NO WAY I was going to put a picture of a slug on my blog. I couldn’t even make it through the Wikipedia entry about them to see what the hell is up with their nasty, nasty slobber so I decided that I’d rather have a post with a REN & STIMPY reference since that makes me happy.


Ren Dez Vez

Class had let out and my friends and I met in the high school parking lot like we did most days. We split up and piled into cars, eager to begin wasting our afternoon. Ben jumped into the back of the one I was in and we took off. Half an hour later, we were well on our way to nowhere, when Matt asked him why he wasn’t spending the day with his girlfriend. “Idunno,” he said. “She went home, something about a ren dez vez.” We questioned exactly what Ben, a good-looking, sweet and affable guy, liked about Sarah. None of us were fond of her, or that interested really, so the conversation quickly moved onto what were doing that weekend.

A totally different Ren.

A totally different Ren.

An hour later we were all seated in a big booth at a truck stop and I looked across at Ben and thought about Sarah’s message. “What’s a ren dez vez?” I asked. Ben pulled the note out from his back pocket and passed it to me.

“Out early. Rendez-vous my house,” it read.

I started laughing. Hard. Really hard. Among the character faults we’d attributed to her earlier was that she thought she was hot shit when her shit was tepid at best. And here was this note perfectly illustrating exactly what we’d been talking about.

Ben took Spanish. There was no earthly reason for him to ever know that “rendez-vous” meant “meet.” I took French and actually spoke French and I would never have suggested to a fellow French class friend that we rendez-vous anywhere because I don’t like looking like a total asshole. Or making my friends look like total assholes for not knowing something.

Of course, I have no problem making people who aren’t my friends look like assholes, so I quickly made “ren dez vez” code for “meet” among our group. And then I used it with my college friends. And my post-college friends. And if I weren’t living in a country where people genuinely know better, I’d still be using it. And thinking of what a total jerk Sarah was to my friend Ben.

Learn Something

This isn’t really worth delving into on a Word Mystery Wednesday, but it’s interesting to note that English, Spanish and French all have different constructions related to making an appointment. Initially I had to rationalize them to keep them straight.

  • Make an appointment — to help ESL students, I’d tell them to think about their appointment being created (made) in a calendar or agenda.
  • Pedir hora [request an hour] — this one makes sense in its own way too. You call the doctor and request some time to be seen.
  • Prendre un rendez-vous [take a meeting] — if this were only used in the business sense, I wouldn’t even remark upon it, but it’s also for medical appointments which makes the doctor-patient relationship seem more like one of equals. Liberté, égalité…etc.

When considering the construction of “taking” anything anywhere, I always think of this segment from “Beavis and Butt-Head.” In it, they have a brief but illuminating discussion on the linguistic question of why you “take” a dump since you’re actually leaving it. After all these years, I still think it’s funny but what got the biggest laugh for me this time around was that either of those idiots would know about “60 Minutes” or Mickey Rooney.


Great Word: gloaming

Glomer has nothing to do with "gloaming." He was a character on another weird cartoon I watched growing up.

Glomer has nothing to do with “gloaming.” He was a character on another weird cartoon I watched growing up.

gloaming → noun, twilight; dusk.

ORIGIN Old English glōmung, from glōm ‘twilight,’ of Germanic origin; related to glow.

I came across this word again when I read Chris Pavone’s The Expats a while back and smiled appreciatively at it. If you weren’t familiar with it, you can now use it to replace its more common synonym. That other word has been marred by its association with the recent popular (horribly written) series of vampire novels. If you must refer to the books/movies, you can use the official Wittertainment referent: Twiglet.

Keepin’ it classy

As a general rule, I don’t care for poetry, but here’s one by Robert Frost, “Flower-Gathering”, which features gloaming.

I left you in the morning,
And in the morning glow,
You walked a way beside me
To make me sad to go.
Do you know me in the gloaming,
Gaunt and dusty gray with roaming?
Are you dumb because you know me not,
Or dumb because you know?

All for me? And not a question
For the faded flowers gay
That could take me from beside you
For the ages of a day?
They are yours, and be the measure
Of their worth for you to treasure,
The measure of the little while
That I’ve been long away.

→ → An actual photo of gloaming and a whole Scottish blog dedicated to it.

by Colin Campbell

by Colin Campbell

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A benefit to subletting

Having a legitimate excuse for turning Death away at the door.

Oh, no no no. There's been a misunderstanding. I'm only the *sub* letter here.

Oh, no, no, no. There’s been a misunderstanding. I’m only the *sub* letter here.

Another way to avoid having him show up is to always use fresh salmon when making mousse.

[More funny French New-Yorker-ish cartoons here.]