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: shower head / alcachofa / pomme de douche

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

Exactly like it happened to me. (Except it not being a bath. And me not being a man. Or Greek. Or bearded. Or super buff.)

Exactly like it happened to me. (Except it not being a bath. And me not being a man. Or Greek. Or bearded. Or super buff.)

Well, that was surprising. Not long after an exchange with Suzanne about what things they’ll find odd when they move back to Canada, I found myself a bit confused in an American shower because I’d unknowingly adapted to those European hand shower nozzle spray things. It was weird to realize that I’d have to turn my actual body around if I wanted to rinse off instead of moving the nozzle around me. A little difference, but one that I never would have expected to get used to since I really hated those damn things for a long time.

Then, like Archimedes before me, I exclaimed “Eureka!” when I realized that there was both a Euro Adapter moment and a Word Mystery just over my head like an idea bulb.

EN → shower head — a perforated nozzle that distributes water over a focal point of use, generally overhead of the bather. ORIGIN of shower: Old English scūr [light fall of rain, hail].

ES → alcachofaPieza agujereada por donde sale el agua de la regadera o de la ducha. [Holey piece from which water comes out in a watering can or the shower.] ORIGIN Hispanicized Arabic al-ḵaršūfa possibly from Pahlavi (Middle Iranian) *hār čōb [spiny stick].

FR → pomme de doucheElément, généralement arrondi, percé de multiples trous. [Generally round piece pierced by multiple holes.] ORIGIN Latin poma [fruit (plural)].

alcachofa showerSpanish Note: the definition given is the seventh of seven listed by the RAE. The first one is for the edible plant “artichoke” but once I learned that I showered under an artichoke every day, this definition became my favorite. If you look at one with this in mind, you can see how it resembles the cross section of a ‘choke.

Today’s Winner: Tough again today. I came into the WM already favoring alcachofa, but I hadn’t known that pomme, a much-used word in French, meant “fruit”. Then I imagined Richard Burton saying scūr (his reading of Beowulf is the only time I’ve actually heard Old English spoken) and I really like the sound of that…so I don’t know. Spanish, I guess? Other opinions welcome.

Since I apparently only reference SNL or Monty Python

It’s worth mentioning that Archimedes is the one who finally initiates the winning goal in the “Philosophers’ Football” sketch, easily my favorite football match of all time. It almost makes me feel bad for the Germans to lose so badly. (Just remember: Don’t mention the war!)

[Ed. The editorial board has determined that a FAWLTY TOWERS reference counts as MONTY PYTHON, so double negative points for lack of originality.]

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What’s wrong with this picture?

Taking a shower is practically a religion for me. Back when I lived stateside, I’m (now) ashamed to admit that I frequently took 30 minute hot showers just to wake myself up in the morning. After living with roommates, temperamental water heaters and showers where there’s just enough room to stand, but not enough to luxuriate, I’ve cut that time considerably.

Now, a problem I sometimes have to deal with is how to shower in one of these:

I’ve adapted to having to hold the nozzle with one hand (though I hate doing so), but I’ll be damned if I know how to successfully clean myself without getting water all over every surface in the bathroom, specifically all over the floor.

More annoying is that I’ve asked the natives how to do it (do you sit? squat? back yourself into a corner?) and all the responses I’ve gotten so far are along the lines of, “you know, you just do it.”

Well, no. I don’t know and I’m loath to be so inconvenienced on a daily basis.