Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


Leave a comment

Word Outlier: tree

Tree in Place Vendôme, December 2013

Tree in Place Vendôme, December 2013

It’s Christmas-in-July all week! Get festive!

O, Christmas Tree
O, Christmas Tree
…why are you a “tree”?

EN tree —a woody perennial plant, typically having a single stem or trunk growing to a considerable height and bearing lateral branches at some distance from the ground. ORIGIN Old English trēow, trēo: from a Germanic variant of an Indo-European root shared by Greek doru [wood, spear] drus [oak].

The Spanish árbol and French arbre both come from the Latin (of course) arbor. Despite generally being annoyed with Latin (it’s in everything!), I find the English evolution to be suspect. I no longer like the word “tree.”


2 Comments

Alpian Way Loot

This loot came from New York via Geneva, Switzerland so I wasn’t sure what to call it. Running a search through my brain, I couldn’t come up with any good movie connections or even mildly amusing puns related to Switzerland…which is kind of Switzerland all over. Everyone’s very friendly and everything’s very clean but the place is not exciting.

Loot Swiss
Pictured

  • New York Public Library tote bag 
  • Coach wrist bag  
  • 2 pairs of Smartwool socks
  • The First Year: Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed 

Things to be learned from this collection

  • One can never have enough tote bags.
  • Due to the Paris metro card’s sensitivity to magnets, I can’t carry mine in any of my bags, hence, wrist bag.
  • In the sock business, you get what you pay for. I had to throw out the four pairs I got from JCrew last autumn because they had no elastic.
  • Everything, even medical ailments, can be solved if you have the right book.

Things I’ve already learned from my book: it knows I love etymology and torturing myself!

RA book excerpt

It’s like it sees into my soul.


2 Comments

Word Mystery: street / calle / rue

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

A Paris street (technically an avenue, whatever). Nov. 2013

A Paris street (technically an avenue, whatever). Nov. 2013

At this point in my Word Mystery game, I’m starting to think that I should take a beginner’s language book and go through the vocabulary, looking for the most basic mysteries. Why? Because I had somehow not gotten around to “street,” an elementary word in modern life. At least yesterday’s look at how dumb I am streets here in Paris finally got me on the right track.

Please check your side- and rear-view mirrors before proceeding.

EN → street — a public road in a city or town, typically with houses and buildings on one or both sides. ORIGIN Old English strǣt, from Latin strāta [paved way].

ES → calleEn una población, vía entre edificios o solares. [In a populated area, the way between buildings and vacant lots.] ORIGIN Latin callis [trail, path].

FR → ruevoie de circulation routière aménagée à l’intérieur d’une agglomération, habituellement bordée de maisons, d’immeubles, de propriétés closes. [Throughways arranged inside a populated area, usually bordered by houses, buildings or closed lots.] ORIGIN Latin ruga [line, wrinkle].

This is another word / concept that I’d never thought to define before, but reading through these it totally makes sense that a street is something you’ll find only in a semi-planned, urban-type setting. Out in the country, there are roads, routes and highways but no streets.

It’s also one of the few Word Mysteries where all the languages have Latin roots, even if they’re totally different ones. I would venture to guess that the English root is the most recent and is due to the Romans introducing the concept of paving to the Anglo-Saxon world. (The Romans loved building roads and any other kind of urban improvement projects.) The Spanish and French would have evolved more naturally from the natural paths that people and animals made as they shuffle around this mortal coil.

Today’s winner is Latin, especially since I can’t decide which evolution of the idea I like best.


5 Comments

Word Mystery: cash / efectivo / espèces

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

I was right receiptThe cashier at my new local grocery store doesn’t like me. I suppose this is my fault, but I’ll explain what happened and you can judge for yourself.

She rang me up on one of my first visits, a total of 19,67€. Using the one math trick that I know, I gave her a 20€ bill and 17 cents.

“What’s this?” she asked, indicating the 10-cent piece.

“That gives me 50 cents back,” I told her.

“What? No it doesn’t! I don’t want this!” and she pushed the coin into my shopping bag, making it impossible to reach since it fell underneath all my purchases.

“Yes,” I insisted because this is the one math thing I can do right. “I give you 17 and you return 50.”

I may have pushed this point a little too hard. I should have taken her disproportionately angry initial response as an indication that she was in a bad mood.

“Don’t you tell me how to run my register!” she yelled at me. Yelled. In the middle of the store on an otherwise normal day. I backed down immediately, but the receipt proves that I was totally right, something she realized as soon as she counted out my change.

Today we went through the same thing; I was counting out the 33 cents that would give me 50 back but she changed up the operation and grabbed a one-Euro coin from my palm and, in a flash, gave me 17 cents in 1- and 2-cent pieces. I’m fairly sure that she did it just to piss me off, which worked, but she also made the rest of her shift impossible.

As a former cashier and person who had to cash out registers at the end of the night, I know that you want MORE denominations of coins so that you can easily make change. If you give all of your 1-cent pieces to someone out of spite, then you’ve screwed yourself by not being able to spread out their dispersal over your shift. Her behavior makes no sense to me and only results in both of us being penalized for her bad mood and inability to grasp mathematical concepts that even a complete idiot (me) can master. Makes no cents at all.

But dealing with surly cashiers is one of the disadvantages of paying in cash, today’s Word Mystery. I’ll ring you up below.

EN → cash — money in coins or notes, as distinct from checks, money orders, or credit. ORIGIN Old French casse [box] from Latin capsa [box].

ES → efectivo4. adj. Dicho del dinero: En monedas o billets. [4. Money term, in coins or bills.] ORIGIN Latin effectīvus [of practical implementation].

FR → espèces4. monnaie ayant cours légal. [Legal tender.] ORIGIN Latin “species” but its evolution is unclear. Possibly from the sense of “commodity” but even that seems a stretch.

English note: I’m disappointed that I never made the connection between “cash” and “caixa” before. The latter is a term seen in lots of places all over Spain as it’s commonly used in bank names, like Caixa Galicia.

Spanish note: Effectivus for the rest of us, I guess?

French note: In my mind, espèces was related to “spices” which made sense as they were used as currency. That it’s related to “species” makes no sense to me.

Today’s Winner is Spanish since it both confounded me the first time someone said it to me (“You want me to effectively do what, exactly?”) and, because of the three options, it’s the least annoying.


Leave a comment

Word Mystery: sequin / paillette / lentejuela

Some Topshop frock.

Some Topshop frock.

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

There is pretty much no scenario in which I can organically talk about sequins, so the week following when a bunch of people wore them in Hollywood seemed like the only possible way to get this trio, the third on my list of almost 140 Word Mysteries, into the mix.

Get your dancing shoes on and shimmy on over to the learnin’.

EN → sequin — 1 a small, shiny disk sewn as one of many onto clothing for decoration. 2 (historical) a Venetian gold coin. ORIGIN From second sense, this, chronologically from Arabic sikka [a die for coining], to Arabic zecca [a mint/place for coining metal] to Italian zecchino [pure gold coin].

ES → lentejuelaPlancha, pequeña y redonda, de metal u otro material brillante, que se cose en los vestidos como adorno. [Small, round piece of flat metal or other shiny material which is sewn on clothes as decoration.] ORIGIN Diminuative of lenteja [lentil], this from Latin lenticŭla [freckle, lentil].

FR → paillettePetite lamelle de matière brillante servant d’ornement sur les vêtements. [Small piece of shiny material which serves as decoration on clothing.] ORIGIN From paille [straw], this from Latin palea [chaff, husk].

English note: Ooooh, I like it when there’s a clear progression between the original word and the modern one. It should be noted that sequins are probably only slightly less heavy than actual gold coins.

Spanish note: This makes sense to me, though I would never attach lentils to my person.

French note: A bit confused by this one. I guess that maybe if you slice a piece of straw, you’re left with something small, round and kind of decorative. If you attached a bunch of them together, they might even make a sound like sequins do, but they won’t shimmer and shine.

Today’s winner, despite how I feel about lentils, is English because I really like the idea of just strapping one’s money to oneself to show off.