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: annoy / molestar / gêner

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

My sister recently commented that I’d become “more Zen” since leaving the US. I think she was miffed that I no longer get angry about a lot of the types of things that used to vex us both. It wasn’t easy to learn how to let things go, but generally speaking, I do.

Having said this, I do still get annoyed by things, just not as often.

Jon Lovitz as Annoying Man on SNL

To Jon Lovitz as Annoying Man on SNL I say, “I LOVE YOU.”

Being without Internet for an entire month and not even knowing why for two weeks and then (nicely) arguing with people for another two weeks to get the damn connection restored? Yeah, that pissed me off. But my “Zen” approach is to realize that, despite my American can-do, where-there’s-a-will-there’s-a-way, the-customer’s-always-right spirit, I live in Europe now where that amounts to zero and there’s not a damn thing I can do about anything.

And in August, that goes double. NO ONE is going to go out of their way to help you in August. Just embrace the futility and sit back and read a book. A really long one. Or five really long ones.

EN → annoy — irritate (someone); make (someone) a little angry. ORIGIN Old French anoier, based on Latin in odio in the phrase mihi in odio est [it is hateful to me].

ES → molestarCausar molestia. [Cause annoyance.] ORIGIN Latin molestāre [take annoyance].

FRgênerCauser une gêne à (qqn), mettre mal à l’aise. [Cause someone annoyance, make someone uncomfortable]. ORIGIN Latin gehenna from Hebrew gē-Hinnōm [Valley of Hinnom, aka Jewish Hell or Purgatory], located south of Jerusalem, where Jews offered child sacrifices to Moloch.

If you’ve been reading these for a while, you’ll know that whenever there’s some Hebrew up in the Word Mystery, the Jews are taking it all the way.


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String Bean Arm

My sister was totally grossed out by my dirty distorted foot (um, that was partly the point), so I thought I’d add another pic that makes me look all deformed. (It’s really hard to take pics of one’s own body.)

Attack of the Foot-Long Beans!

Attack of the Foot-Long Beans!

To me, these things are called judías because the only time I ever had reason to call them anything was in Spain. Sometimes I’d help my grandparents’ housekeeper shell a big bunch, but as the task was significantly tedious, I would often “accidentally” send some of the beans flying and would be dismissed from assisting any longer. My sister claims to have done it for hours but I don’t buy that. (We didn’t eat them that often.)

Anyway, my sister’s also the person who pointed out a while ago that a whole continent of people call string beans “Jewesses” (as that’s what judías are, female Jews) and, despite generally thinking that politically correct language has gone way too far and that people should just chill the hell out about a lot of things, even I have a problem with this based solely on the fact that I don’t see any connection. Even the Real Academia Española doesn’t explain anything beyond that the name may have come from Latin iudaeus from the Hebrew yəhūdī [Jew] but I don’t see what’s particulary Jewish about them in any case. Anyone have a clue?


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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.