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: ice cream cone / cucurucho / cornet

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

In the summer time, when the weather is warm…I am frequently too damn hot to eat dinner. Sometimes, half a kilo of strawberries is a meal, other times, I’ll grab a sorbet on the way home to cool myself off from the inside out.

Earlier this week, I had a scoop of citron for dinner, but it didn’t compare to the delicious cassis I used to get in Lyon after a hard ride on a sunny day.



Nothing beats cooling my brain off after sorting out a Word Mystery though (I tell myself in the hopes that it’ll be true).

EN → ice cream cone — an edible wafer container shaped like a cone in which ice cream is served. ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting an apex or vertex): from French cône, from Greek kōnos .

ES → cucuruchoPapel, cartón, barquillo, etc., arrollado en forma cónica, empleado para contener dulces, confites, helados, cosas menudas. [Paper, cardboard, wafer, etc. rolled in conical form, used to contain candies, pastries, ice cream or small things.] ORIGIN From an Italian dialect’s cucuruccio.

FR → cornetGaufrette conique que l’on garnit de glace. [Conical waffle which is filled with ice cream.] ORIGIN Diminutive of corne, this from Low Latin corna [cone, horn].

English note: the origin reminds me of a time during my ESL teaching days in Barcelona. Another teacher poked her head out of her classroom and asked if anyone knew another word for “top” to help her class complete an exercise. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said, “Tip, apex, peak, acme, zenith, summit, climax, pinnacle. Do any of those work?” Everyone around me was shocked, but they didn’t even realize the super-scary thing I’d done. As an avid crossword-puzzler, I’d listed the synonyms in ascending order of letters. My mind is a terrifying place, full of words and oddness.

Spanish note: Italian, eh? I guess ice cream came by boat to Spain. Figures. There aren’t any good native desserts there. (I think flan is yuck to the max.)

French note: this was a little bit of a cheat today since I was fairly certain going in that “cone” would have a French connection, but I make no apologies.

C’mon. Do you even have to ask who today’s winner is? Have you *tried* saying cucurucho out loud? If you do, I guarantee that it’ll be one of the best things that comes out of your mouth all day.


Word Mystery: brother / hermano / frère

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

Oh, brother. Here we go.

Oh, brother. Here we go.

“Brother” may become verboten along with some other words on this blog because it’s been popping up too often recently in really annoying ways, like how my post about THE GOONIES reminded me that I hadn’t yet covered it as a Word Mystery. My feelings about it are currently like my general rabies sensation except angry. I’m hoping that by exposing it, it’ll go away.

EN → brother — a man or boy in relation to other sons and daughters of his parents. ORIGIN Old English brōthor, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch broeder and German Bruder.

ES → hermano — Persona que con respecto a otra tiene el mismo padre y la misma madre, o solamente el mismo padre o la misma madre. [Person who, with respect to another, has the same father and mother, or only the same father or mother.] ORIGIN Latin germānus [genetic “blood” brother].

FR  → frère — Garçon né du même père, de la même mère, ou des deux mêmes parents que la personne considérée. [Boy born to the same father, same mother, or who shares the same parents as another.] ORIGIN Classic Latin frater [brother].

Thoughts on today’s Mystery

Only the French definition concedes both that people not related by blood could be brothers (adopted, foster, etc.) and that parents could be either a mother or a father or possibly a different combination of genders.

Today’s winner is English just so the damn word will leave me alone! Now, git!

Something more interesting?

When I first started teaching ESL, the sentence “How many brothers and sisters have you got?” bothered me a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever posed that question in that way. It’s way too long for starters and totally unnecessary when English has a perfectly good word — sibling — that encompasses both genders (and saves time). That Romance languages insist on making all groups of mixed gender things male pisses me off since it’s misleading and generally uncool to marginalize just over half of the world’s population.


The seed of the plant is one of my favorite things, but the comic Peanuts is super sad. Like anyone who was a kid and used to read it, I thought it was a fun and touching strip about a boy and his dog, but when I read Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis a few years ago, it made me reconsider everything I’d thought about it. Charles Schulz was a deeply unhappy person and the story of his life will either make you feel better about yourself (you can’t be as miserable as he was) or worse (all his success still didn’t bring him happiness).

At least he gave us Snoopy dancing.

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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?


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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Counting to se7en in Spanish

A weird thing happened shortly after I started teaching English in Barcelona. People were constantly referring to los pecados mortales. The first time they came up, I didn’t know what they were, but once I was told they were “bad” and made “God angry,” I realized that they were talking about David Fincher.

Well, not exactly, but the only way I could even begin to remember the Seven Deadly Sins was by running through the series of grisly murders in Fincher’s classic 1995 thriller, Se7en. (His first collaboration with Brad Pitt, if you care about such things.)

“Oh right!” I’d say to my students and then beginning mumbling, “There was the fat guy, that’s Gluttony. Then the lawyer was.. Greed, maybe, though there was a thing with his wife? And the sex one. Oh god, the sex one is so horrible. That was Lust. How many is that? Four? ‘What’s in the box?!’ That’s Envy… and then there’s the air freshener guy… which one was he?”

I could never remember all of them. By the time I’d get home, sometimes more than 10 hours later, I would have forgotten all about Sins but then they’d come up again days or weeks later and I’d get angry at myself for not looking them up the last time and the whole cycle would repeat. Finally, one day I wrote “SE7EN” on my hand and when I got home, I copied the list into the notebook I always carried with me. And I referred to it ALL THE TIME. Which I found really odd at the time and even more so now that I’m removed from the situation. It’s weird, right?


Mark Twain is one of my heroes

I had a lesson plan based around Mark Twain‘s Extracts From Adam’s Diary when I was an English teacher. Without fail, every student who read it was completely delighted. They were also shocked to learn that the story was published in 1904 since the prose is so modern, fun and playful.

Twain was witty and clever and for these things alone he would be one of my heroes. But there are many others: he wasn’t just a self-made man, he was a self-invented man (born Samuel Clemens); he was a Midwesterner who went East; he embodied many good American ideals and not many bad ones; he was a great great writer.

If you come across any of his books, do yourself a favor and take one home. You’ll laugh so much and then be happy for so long that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without him. I’d go with a title you don’t recognize (no cultural baggage), especially the short stories. They’re just wonderful. Really.