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: butterfly / mariposa / papillon / farfalla

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

Special request Word Mystery today from a friend of the family (hi Daniel!), so I don’t have an elaborate expat-related setup, but I do have a weird personal anecdote.

photo: Robyn Stacey

photo: Robyn Stacey

My BFF and I decided a million years ago that “butterfly” would be our code word for “help” in any situation. If one of us couldn’t remember another person’s name while talking to them, we’d mention how odd it was that we’d seen a butterfly earlier that day and the other would come to the rescue. If one of us was in a place we didn’t want to stay, we’d casually drop the insect into the conversation and the other person would make an excuse to get us both out of there.

Once this pattern was established, though thousands of miles away from each other, I kept on using “butterfly” as a password. When moving into a new apartment once, we only had one set of keys for three of us over the weekend, so we left them in an envelope in the bar downstairs. (This was in Barcelona, so a bar is really a coffee shop that also sells beer.) I immediately suggested that “mariposa” be the code word to write on the envelope and that the cashier would demand to anyone picking up the keys. It’s the perfect word for all kinds of situations since it’s innocuous, not commonly said, and, as Bart Simpson learned years after I had, “Nobody ever suspects the butterfly.

EN → butterfly — an insect with two pairs of large wings that are covered with tiny scales, usually brightly colored, and typically held erect when at rest. ORIGIN Oooooh, a dispute! One version has it as Old English, from butter + fly, possibly because of the color and/or an old belief that the insects stole butter. Another says that it’s Old English butorflēoge, perhaps a compound of butor [beater] + flēoge [fly].

ES → mariposaInsecto lepidóptero. [Lepidopteran insect.] ORIGIN Mari + posa, Jesus’s mother and verb form of posar [to rest] from Latin pausāre [to rest, pause].

FR → papillonForme adulte des lépidoptères, à l’exception des mites et des teignes. [Adult lepidopterans, excluding moths and mites.] ORIGIN Latin papilio [butterfly, moth].

IT → farfallainsetto dell’ordine dei Lepidotteri con ali dal colore variegato. [Insect of the order Lepidoptera with wings of various colors.] ORIGIN Lombardic dialect (northern Italy/southern Germany), evolved from parpaja, parpalhos.

English note: what fun! The first is definitely a better story but the second makes the most sense.

Spanish note: what a totally disappointing definition, especially considering the great lengths they went to with “turkey.”

Papillon McQueenSpanish note 2: what the hell, Origin? Seriously, I am asking you to explain what the Virgin Mary and resting have to do with an insect, ’cause I’m not seeing it. You should be ashamed of yourself for being so willfully obtuse.

French note: PAPILLON was the first Steve McQueen movie I ever saw. I never understood why he was a sex symbol. He’s got the face of a boxer.

Italian note: The evolution may not seem obvious but /f/ and /p/ are very close sounds.

Italian note 2: I don’t speak Italian. I don’t pretend to speak Italian. I don’t even like Italian. As stated above, this post was a request, one to specifically include the Italian word.

Today’s Winner has to be English, right? It’s got two very good possible origin stories and isn’t religious or Latin, so I’m going with that.

Related in my mind

I held the fastest record in my junior high for being able to recite the ranks of biological/taxonomic classification (while still being understood). This is super useful in Jeopardy!-type situations and not at all the rest of the time. For the record, it’s kingdomphylumclassorderfamilygenusspecies. I can still do it under two seconds, so I must have been even faster way back when.

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Housekeeping

Updates on stuff I’ve written and your comments.

Citymapper Paris→ The CityMapper app I raved about has added Paris! Everything’s coming up Milhouse in 2014! You can get it here!

→ Even though I am of the female persuasion, my feelings about stuff like Title IX and gender diversity on company boards are at odds. When dealing with historical figures and their cultural importance, I have even more uncomfortable feelings because I do think it’s important to recognize the roles that people played in making the world what it is today… but I don’t like the idea of digging people up and burying them somewhere else just to make a political point. This is something that’s being suggested at the Panthéon here in Paris, which I wrote about a while back, specifically citing that I liked the male-centric wording of the engraving over the entrance. (To be totally clear, partly what I liked about the sentiment is its Lady-doth-protest-too-much exceptionalism about French men.)

→ Speaking of exceptionalism, I wrote about the American kind ages ago and “The Atlantic” reports that its era is over. What’s the opposite of chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”? “Boo-hoo for us”?

→ An alternate take on purging is to buy better quality things. I used to do this regularly, but since I’ve been living out of suitcases for over eight years, I realized that buying excellent new versions of stuff I already owned was foolish. Hence, lots of repeat crap. Kelly’s point about French women is true though — all the closets I’ve seen personally have very little clothes in them but those things tend to be très nice and more expensive.

→ Some dude picked a fight with me over on Suzanne and Pierre’s blog about, get this, SPAIN. At least he shut up once he realized that, in addition to not getting involved in a land war in Asia or going against a Sicilian when death is on the line, challenging me when I talk shit about Spaniards is a classic blunder which is best avoided.

→ I am not crazy. This is a thing which bears repeating, if only in a low voice to myself. My love of The Great Brain book series is apparently a *totally normal* thing. It’s so within the realm of not extraordinary things that Brian Koppelman is comfortable making an off-hand reference to one of the characters in the books and Seth Myers just goes with it, apparently knowing that being compared to the Brain’s little brother is an epic insult.

Labyrinth_Worm→ I got into a LABYRINTH appreciation party over on “Bread is Pain” and then a stupid BuzzFeed quiz* proved that I am, in fact, the Worm.  I *am* generally good about giving directions (except when I’m not).

*Is this redundant? Is there any kind of BuzzFeed quiz that *isn’t* stupid?


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Fashion Forward

Finding a bench that wasn’t being rained on, I decided to wait out the storm and take a break. I was happily listening to a podcast when an approaching woman caught my eye. She was wearing sensible shoes, bright purple jersey cotton pants, a long-sleeved t-shirt and a fleece shearling vest. “I wanna be like that when I’m an old lady,” I thought, respecting that she didn’t give a damn about the weather and was clearly dressed for comfort.

In retrospect, she was more like this.

In retrospect, she was more like this.

She sat on the bench next to mine and we were both sheltered for a time. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that she was moving animatedly and I dared turn my head a bit to see. She was talking and gesticulating wildly, not caring that I couldn’t hear her and had made no move to acknowledge her. I held my ground and didn’t engage her because talking to crazy people is one of the worst things you can do. You will spend the rest of your day trying to get away from them. I know this from experience. Do not engage crazy people.

After a few minutes of rambling, she abruptly stood up and strode across the street, entering the corner bar. I saw my chance, leapt up and ran away, heading down another street towards home.

I need to reconsider my life goals and role models.


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Let’s go to the movies!

My local theater is doing a “Kubrick” retrospective. I’m using quotes since I’m guessing they don’t want to get sued. Of course, it’s entirely possible that this movie is about the Undersee Hotel or a place where they don’t like definite articles.