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: zipper / cremallera / fermeture Éclair

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?!).

I thought YKK invented zippers.

I thought YKK invented zippers.

If I were one of those proverbial typing monkeys who eventually write Shakespeare, I would still never have guessed the origins of today’s words inspired by yesterday’s childhood memory.

EN → zipper — a device consisting of two flexible strips of metal or plastic with interlocking projections closed or opened by pulling a slide along them, used to fasten garments, bags, and other items.
ORIGIN: 1925, probably from ‘zip.’ The trademark taken out on the name that year applied to a boot with zippers, not to the “lightning fastener” itself, which was at first called a zip. [source]

ES cremallera — Barra metálica con dientes en uno de sus cantos, para engranar con un piñón. [Metal strip with teeth on one side and gears on the other.]
Del francés crémaillère [from the French crémaillère: rack and pinion mechanism].

FR fermeture Éclair — Fermeture à glissière de la marque Éclair. [Sliding closing mechanism by the Éclair brand.] The “e” should always be capitalized as it’s a brand name.

The first zippers were developed in the US (U-S-A! U-S-A!) in 1891. You can read more about the evolution of zippers in last month’s NYT Magazine.

UPDATE: How many zipper-related injuries would you guess there were in a ten-year study? If you said 17,616 you were right.

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English is hard: A one-way monkey edition

In this day and age, it’s hard to know when there’s a genuine moment on reality TV. There are so many recognized tropes and cliché phrases that the whole genre is basically a parody of itself. But sometimes, there’s a moment that’s so wonderful that I don’t even care if it was planned.

Last week’s “Project Runway” had one of its contestants, Dmitry Sholokhov, a native of Belarus, complaining about how another contestant is always doing the same thing. “He’s a one-way monkey,” he said, causing me to start laughing for a good thirty seconds. “No. No, I mean, a one-trick pony,” he quickly added, smiling a little bit.

Don’t bother making fun of me for watching such a dumb show. I can’t really explain it since I don’t care at all about fashion. It’s possible that what keeps me coming back are the interstitial shots of New York City locations. Maybe that’s what a one-way monkey can be: something that stubbornly moves ahead, regardless of what lies there.