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: blister / ampolla / cloque

My first blister(s) from 2013. Doesn't it look like my heel is giving you a wry smirk?

My first blister(s) from 2013*. Doesn’t it look like my heel is giving you a wry smirk?

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

It’s safe to say that spring has definitely arrived in la petite couronne. It’s not just that I closed out the Winter playlist, nor that the sun came out. It’s not even that the constant rain of the last season let up. The real sign came when I went out for a bit and, deciding that the day was much too nice to keep to my arranged schedule, I spent the whole afternoon walking around. As I hadn’t been planning on being so active, I hadn’t dressed accordingly which meant that a big blister formed on the ball of my foot. Skin soft and weak from months of being coddled needs to learn fast that the times, they have a’ changed.

EN → blister — a small bubble on the skin filled with serum and caused by friction, burning, or other damage. ORIGIN Middle English, perhaps from Old French blestre [swelling, pimple].

ES → ampollaElevación local de la epidermis por acumulación de fluido. [Raised area on the skin which has risen in response to being filled with fluid.] ORIGIN Latin ampulla [small accident, round jug with two handles].

FR → cloquePetit gonflement de la peau produit par une brûlure, une piqûre, un frottement. [Small swelling of the skin produced by a burn, a bite or friction.] ORIGIN Permutation of cloche [bell] in the Normand and Picard dialects where the Latin sound /k/ hasn’t been transformed into /ʃ/ [“sh”].

FYI: do not do an image search for “blister.” There is some nasty stuff out there.

English note: the dictionary said “perhaps,” but if there’s an old word blestre that means swelling, it seems like a pretty good bet to me.

French note: Blisters are also called ampoules in French, but I already wrote about them once, so I went with this version. In both cases, the word is used to refer to a thing that contains or is filled with liquid. Interestingly, ampoules are also light bulbs but this seems like a case of “one of these things is not like the others.”

French note 2: I like this definition best. It’s precise and lovely.

Today’s winner is English since it’s a dedicated word.

* My first blister from 2014 will be used to illustrate another post. Don’t all get too excited at once. That one’ll be a bit gross for people who are sensitive to such things but awesomely informative to those who like practical knowledge.

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Great Words: seemly / unseemly

seemly /ˈsēmlē/ — conforming to accepted notions of propriety or good taste; decorous.

unseemly /ˌənˈsēmlē/ — (of behavior or actions) not proper or appropriate.

I like them both, though unseemly might be better because it just sounds so dirty. For some reason, when I came across it recently, my mind immediately jumped to the Sesame Street character Lefty, who is every kind of unseemly.

When I was a kid, it never occurred to me how inappropriate it was that a show for children featured a creepy guy in a trench coat, trying to trick beloved characters like Ernie into buy stolen merchandise. (That “8” totally fell off a truck.) I also never realized that for the rest of my life, whenever anyone talked about a plan, I’d think or say “riiiiiiiiiiiiight” and then muse for a few seconds about Fran and Stan without remembering exactly why, but I won’t forget anytime soon.

Sesame Street was a totally weird show back in the day. There were so many segments that I remember fondly that were clearly the ideas of people who were stoned out of their minds. I mean, “Milk” which was a favorite of mine, is literally several minutes of narration-free scenes depicting how milk travels from a cow into a glass in your kitchen. [Turns out that one of the people behind “Milk” recognizes how unconventional this short film was, even at the time.]

It’s a wonder more people who grew up on the show aren’t more messed up. I can safely say that I was only partially warped by it, though it’s probably the parts of me that were led astray that are the most interesting.


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Stupid rabbit

Teaching English to foreign children can be tedious. Being amused and being amusing are the pillars of my existence, so going over dumb verbs and days of the week forever is like torture for me.

But it doesn’t have to be.

One thing I do is subvert lessons to make them more fun (for me). Oh, we’re going to count? Well, we’re gonna do it the way they did on “Sesame Street” complete with doo-doot-dah-doo-doos and we’re gonna dance once we hit 12 (“12!”).

Writing ESL books can be boring as hell too. But it doesn’t have to be.

This is a scan of a fraction of a page in a children’s vocab book that I came across several years ago.

stupid rabbit
It’s a little hard to make out at first, but there’s a live rabbit in this kitchen. The bigger kid is tripping over it and cursing it. This is one of my favorite things and I sometimes say, “stupid rabbit” when annoying things happen to me. And then I laugh because not only is that rabbit stupid, but, seriously, what the hell is he doing in the kitchen?

Huh

So, there’s today’s rabbit and then the “be a rabbit do it well” rabbit which means that I have two mantras about rabbits. This is really weird to me since I don’t like rabbits in any form. They’re not amusing pets, don’t taste particularly good and have vicious streaks “a mile wide.” I’ll have to spend the weekend pondering What This All Means.


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Word Mystery: eight / huit / ocho

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?!).

Count von Count knows what's up.

Count von Count knows what’s up.

The longer I’m away from 24h 360° exposure to English, the harder it becomes to do simple things. Like spell the number 8 correctly. Because it’s a crazy looking word and when you throw in its ordinal variation “eighth” it becomes almost impossible. How can that combination of letters be correct? There are four consecutive consonants that don’t make any sense together and yet, that’s the way it’s done. I decided to get on the case and see what could be learned. So, here’s the story on eight, including the hilarious definitions. Continue reading


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New (old) favorite thing

As I get older, it’s hard to believe that I used to be a cool and popular person. Don’t get me wrong — I’m still a lot of fun to be around and people tend to enjoy my company — but I find that I’m enjoying odder things every day.

Without the "LFA," there would be no Alastair Cookie. True story.

Without the “LFA,” there would be no Alastair Cookie.

My newest favorite thing is a thing that’s almost as old as my mom, which is to say it’s way older than I am: Alastair Cooke’s “Letters From America.” They are available, for free, on iTunes through the largesse of the BBC. I stumbled onto them while trolling iTunes UK (it’s fascinating how different each country’s store is) and almost hopped out of my seat, such was my excitement.

For those of you unfamiliar with the “programme,” it is a series of 15-minute weekly audio “letters” sent by Cooke from the US to elucidate some fine point of American life to his former countrymen. They ran from 1946 to 2004. Fifty-eight years. Can you imagine?

The first one that’s accessible is from 1947 and begins with this gem of a statement:

Americans, more than most people I think, like to enjoy the fallacy of free will and pretend that a new calendar means a new and better life.

BOOM! In your face, Americans! Take your silly provincial ideals and get out of this guy’s way! He won’t suffer your tomfoolery any longer!

In all seriousness, this thing is an incredible archive and gives a thoughtful you-are-there feeling to American history from the last half century. You should check them out. Really phenomenal stuff. Plus Cooke has such a lovely speaking voice that I’m sure they’ll improve my diction.

UPDATE: Thanks to expatlingo’s diligence, if you’re not an iTunes user, you can download the Letters directly from BBC4 here.