Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

Leave a comment

Word Mystery: eat / comer / manger

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

I’ve done almost 70 Word Mysteries and have a list of nearly 130 waiting to be researched on my computer but this week’s entry doesn’t appear on it because I am an idiot. No other possibilities exist.

EN → eat — put food into the mouth and chew and swallow it. ORIGIN Dutch eten [food, eat] and German essen [eat].

ES → comerMasticar y desmenuzar el alimento en la boca y pasarlo al estómago. [Act of chewing and making smaller of food in the mouth and passing it to the stomach.] ORIGIN Latin comedĕre [consume, devour].

FR → mangerAbsorber un aliment, par opposition à boire. [Absorb food through means other than drinking.] ORIGIN Latin manducare [chew, masticate].

French note #1: the second definition for manger is the one you’d expect (it includes chewing) but the example provided is “to chew one’s nails,” which is not what I think about when eating. (Nail chewing is totally disgusting, on par with people who clip their nails in public. What makes anyone think that’s okay? That is *not* okay.)

French note #2: I took enough science classes to understand that food is actually absorbed by the body during the process of digestion, but I still feel like the French is suggesting that osmosis is a viable way to take in calories.

Today’s Winner: I’m going to go with English as that definition is the only one that didn’t make my stomach turn.

Just for funzies

"Dear God, what is that thing?" = nauseous

“Dear God, what is that thing?” = nauseous

Nauseous — causing nausea.

Nauseated — affected with nausea.

Both come from the Latin nauseosus [seasickness] but the difference in usage is one that’s important (to pedants like me, at least).

I am nauseous = I make people vomit.
I am nauseated = I am going to vomit.

Leave a comment

Word Mystery: water / agua / eau

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 drink tons of water every day because I have a thirst that needs quenching. Water, not the spice, is the stuff of life and the most important thing on the planet. Water covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and, in a favorite Calvin & Hobbes strip that I think about at least twice a week, water is 80% of Calvin’s body, a delicate balance he disrupts by drinking one glass too many.

EN → water — a colorless, transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid that forms the seas, lakes, rivers, and rain and is the basis of the fluids of living organisms. ORIGIN Old English wæter (noun); related to German Wasser, from Latin unda ‘wave’ and Greek hudōr ‘water.’ [Hodor?]

ES aguaSustancia cuyas moléculas están formadas por la combinación de un átomo de oxígeno y dos de hidrógeno, líquida, inodora, insípida e incolora. [Substance formed by the combination of one atom of oxygen and two of hydrogen. Odorless, tasteless, colorless liquid.] ORIGIN Latin aqua

FR eauLiquide transparent, incolore, insipide et inodore essentiel aux êtres vivants, un des éléments de base de la Terre. [Transparent colorless, tasteless, odorless liquid essential to living things. One of the basic Earth elements.] ORIGIN Latin aqua, morphed in 11th cent. to egua and ewe, in the 12th to aive, aigue, eve, then eaue. The final “e” was dropped in the 15th cent.

Tough call today, but I think French ekes out the win for most ridiculous word spelling and pronunciation as well as dumbest and slowest evolution.


→ Whoa, wait? Am I dumb or does everyone know that iocane powder and water almost share a definition? “It is odorless, tasteless and dissolves immediately in any kind of liquid. It also happens to be the deadliest poison known to man.” (Goldman, p. 93) Though, as iocane powder is lethal and water gives life, that make iocane anti-water? I’m gonna be thinking on this one for a while.

→ On a weird cultural note, I have used H2O on my grocery lists as long as I can remember and was surprised when Spanish friends didn’t know what that was. This despite the fact that they make jokes based on the Periodic Table.

→ Finally, the coolest thing that’s ever happened to water was when it was sopped up by a towel and then wrung out in space.

Leave a comment

How the cookie crumbles

Je vous écoute,” the lady behind the cookie counter said as she turned her back to me to wash her hands. I ordered two milk chocolate chips and two milk chocolate caramels. The place had a deal for four cookies and I’d just received less than awesome news from my doctor, so I figured some cookies would go great with the liter of milk I had chilling in the fridge at home.

Here is the part where I clearly made a mistake: I looked away from the cookies to dig in my bag for my wallet. My bag was particularly full since I’d managed to fit my x-rays in there, as well as TEN boxes of medication along with all the usual stuff. Hand on money, I fixed my attention back on her, paid, then headed home.

Once seated at my table with my milk and a clean tall glass, I opened the bag to learn that despite telling me she was listening to me, she clearly hadn’t been listening to me. Two white chocolate cookies and two caramels! No plain chocolates! She lied to me! She is a liar!

Oh, I ate them anyway, but they didn’t taste that good, possibly because after every bite I said, “God dammit, lady.” Day officially ruined.

Leave a comment

To the pain

Pain is just like animal sounds, linguistically speaking: it doesn’t translate directly. The first time I came across this communication hiccup was when I was in Spain, suffering from an intense pain in my arm. I made a point of looking up the odd words I needed in the dictionary and merrily went on my way, hoping it would all be over soon.

When I was called into the doctor’s office, I complained of sharp pains in my arm, like I was being stabbed by a cold knife. Both the doctor and the intern stared at me, unable to even come up with a response. Then, the doctor veeeeerrrrrry sloooooowwwwwwly asked, “But, have you been stabbed before?” I laughed and said of course not. “Then how do you know the feeling of being stabbed?”

In his defense, he had a valid point. In my defense, this is the way people talk in English.

“Remember, this is for posterity, so be honest. How do you feel?”

After much back and forth, I told them that I had a repeated pain in my arm. It was rhythmic, so it was related to my pulse somehow. Also, it was an acute pain, so I determined that it was nerve-related. With these clues and some follow-up poking and prodding, the doctors decided that I had a inflamed nerve, probably aggravated by a repetitive motion, stress and the fact that I hadn’t slept well in months (it was summertime).

This all came back to me recently as I lay in bed, unable to move and wondering how in the hell I was going to explain what was wrong with me in French. I’d woken up and, when I tried to spin my body to the side of the bed to reach my slippers, I’d found that my right leg wasn’t cooperating. A cursory inspection revealed that my knee was swollen to the size of a coconut. (Normally, it’s between a nectarine and a small grapefruit.)

Adding irony to injury, since I couldn’t go anywhere, I was listening to podcasts while breathing through the pain and Radiolab’s episode about rating levels of pain came on. Staring at the ceiling and cursing everything I’ve ever known, I came up with some choice phrases to express my level of pain in French as well as awesome new combinations of multilingual curse words.

It turns out that I needn’t have worried about the linguistic issue so much. The source of my pain is clear (seriously, it’s hugely swollen) and the doctor I went to see started off by saying as much. Then she did a sonogram and diagnosed me with minimal weird attempts at explaining myself.

Truth be told, I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to use any of the many little phrases I’d come up with (the best being how the muscle around my knee felt like overcooked meat), so I’ll just have to wait until I have some kind of injury that isn’t manifest.

Leave a comment

Come with me, Ro-man, to the sea

One of the first classes I signed up for in college was Intro to Roman History. I did this simply so that if anyone ever asked me if I’d studied Agrippa, I could respond, “I have.” My professor was a bad lecturer, but I did love a lot of the stories (like Remus and Romulus) and connecting Important Historical Moments to places I had visited just months before with some high school friends was entertaining.

Now, I live in a place where evidence of their existence is everywhere, in big and small ways and the Romans are even making their way into my reading. Guys with names ending in -aunus and -ius, or with titles like Maximus feature heavily in the first chapters of Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (Vol. I The Birth of Britain) in ways that are interesting enough to warrant a mention. Something intrinsic to the Roman people was a total surprise to me. As Churchill clearly states

The Romans hated and feared the sea. (pg.4)

Sure, the seat of their empire was a peninsular land, but the Romans weren’t seafarers. Additionally, the Mediterranean as a body of water has totally different properties from, say, the North Sea. They tried to invade Britain many times but were beaten back again and again by tides and storms that they didn’t understand. On a couple of occasions, fleets departing France from the modern Calais area, within sight of their destination only 26 miles away, were blown completely off course and beached miles and miles off course on the French side.

In my mind’s eye, I see a whole wave of those armored centurions yelling, “Aw, belanus!”

Learn something

Of course, the Romans eventually did successfully invade Britain. Caesar first made it over in 55 BC, but after all the difficulties getting there and not being able to immediately subjugate the native Celts, the Romans gave up the desire to possess the island for a hundred years. It’s impressive to think that after their initial failure, they went back and gained control over so much of Britain, especially when you think about how little they cared for traveling across water.

The Roman Empire, 117 AD