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: coffin / ataúd / cercueil

This man also appreciates good plans.

This man also appreciates good plans.

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

I love it when a plan comes together. I’d been trying to find an organic way of talking about beer for a while, partly because I love it, but also because I read something really weird several months ago and wanted to write about.

See, I was glancing through the newspaper and came across mise en bière, a phrase that I translated as “put in beer” which sounds awesome but didn’t make any sense in context because it had nothing to with the liquid but instead with that final party that we all attend, The Big Sleep.

EN → coffin — a long, narrow box, typically of wood, in which a corpse is buried or cremated. ORIGIN Latin cophinus [coffer].

ES → ataúdCaja, ordinariamente de madera, donde se pone un cadáver para llevarlo a enterrar. [Box, usually wooden, where cadavers are placed to take them to be buried.] ORIGIN Aramaic attabút [??] from Hebrew tēbāh [step forward] and Egyptian ḏb’t [adobe-like clay].

FR cercueilLong coffre servant à contenir le corps d’un mort qu’on ensevelit. [Long box used to contain the corpse of a dead person for burial.] ORIGIN Latin sarca [chair] from Greek sarkophagos [stone + chair].

I bet Count Chocula’s sleeping quarters are yummy.

In French, “mise en bière” means to put someone in their coffin, also known as a bière. Despite watching every episode of Six Feet Under, I don’t know if there’s a specific phrase in English for this; not the embalming part, put the physical act of en-coffin-ing someone. In France, this act is federally regulated under the Code géneral des collectivités territoriales Article R2213-15. Apparently, this is to ensure that all corpses are disposed of properly so that they don’t contaminate crops or water supply. This is a good thing.

Wait, what?!

How the hell did Spanish get the craziest damn combination of roots I’ve come across in all the time I’ve been sourcing these Word Mysteries?! On an academic level, I understand how it happened but, c’mon! Aramaic! And Hebrew! And Egyptian! It’s too much — Spain wins all the awards this week and may, if a final tally is ever made, get additional points for difficulty.