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: drown / ahogar / noyer

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?!).

lifeofpiI finally caught up with Life of Pi which I saw in English with French subtitles. Had it not been for this viewing experience, I probably never would have come upon this particular word mystery.

EN drown — (Old Norse drukkna ‘to be drowned’) die through submersion in and inhalation of water.

ES ahogar (ah-oh-gahr) — Del lat. offocāre, apretar las fauces. [From the Latin offocāre, squeeze/tighten the gullet]

FR noyer (nwah-yea) — (latin necare, faire périr) Faire mourir quelqu’un, un animal par immersion [(Latin necare, to make perish) Make a person or an animal die through means of immersion.]

One of the things I really like about the English language is its precision. One French or Spanish word can have multiple possible English translations because English seems to value nuance and exactitude. Note that only drown specifies death by water.

The Spanish ahogar has always bothered me since “choke” can also be defined this way and drowning and choking are distinctly different propositions; one is generally accidental and the other is homicidal*.

In French, you can choke on food (s’étouffer: asphyxiate oneself) or be choked (étrangler: compress someone’s throat for the purpose of blocking respiration and killing them).

Tune in for another Word Mystery soon.

On Pi: The film is visually interesting but too long and assumes that the viewer is too dense to understand the story. There is a character whose entire purpose is to carefully spell out everything that happens which takes away from the main pleasure of the story. Verdict: read the book.

*This makes me think of Michael Hutchence, the lead singer of INXS, whose death was the first time I heard about autoerotic asphyxiation. Hutchence makes me think of Bob Geldof (they had a babymamma in common) and Geldof’s daugher Peaches who shouldn’t be allowed to procreate.