Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Word Mystery: swell / hinchar / gonfler

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

Christmas in July was a bit of a joke on my part, but that week ended up being cold enough in Paris that I ran the heat for a couple hours when I got home every night. The following week, it was back to games of sweaty sardines on the Metro, sweaty shirts on the sidewalks and sweaty feet stuck in sweaty shoes. I had to take two showers every day because when I got home, I had to clean the grime off myself as well as cool my body temperature down.

This is a bad way to feel.

One of the most unpleasant side effects of being so overheated is that my feet and fingers swell up a ton. They looked like overstuffed-sausage — so much so that I wondered if I was going to split open like so many failed sausages do on cooking shows. I didn’t want that to happen so I did the only thing I could think of: put bags of frozen loose vegetables like peas and beans on all my body parts and hope like hell that they returned to their normal dimensions.

Now, the bloating’s gone down enough that I can type so everything’s back to being just plain swell.

EN → swell — become larger or rounder in size, typically as a result of an accumulation of fluid. ORIGIN Old English swellan related to German schwellen.

ES → hincharHacer que aumente de volumen algún objeto o cuerpo, llenándolo de aire u otra cosa. [Making the volumen of a thing or body enlarge, by filling with air or something else.] ORIGIN Latin inflāre [inflate].

FR → gonflerAugmenter le volume de quelque chose en le remplissant d’un gaz, d’un fluide. [Increasing the volume of a thing by filling it with air or a fluid.] ORIGIN From Latin conflare [increase through breath].

English note: is it the Yiddishloving American in me that always wants a schw- word to win? Maybe it’s just that I saw SPACEBALLS too many times.

Spanish note: words that begin with “h” always throw me since they don’t seem native to the language. Seeing the Latin root totally demystified this one. Way to take all the fun out of life, Latin.

French note: the origin said it was a “dialectical word” which doesn’t make much sense to me. I think it means “related to a dialect” which makes way more sense than “dialectical” but what do I know? (Answer: seriously little.)

Spanish and French note: both words are also used to mean “pump with air.”

Due to its specificity and its German roots, English is taking the prize home today.

Leave a comment

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: verano / summer / été / estiu

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

In this park.

In this park.

May is over and I’m pretty sure there were only two 24-hour periods where it didn’t rain.

Standing in a park the other day as the drizzle started to fall, someone nearby muttered, “Finally.” Unsure of who they were speaking to, I said, “Excuse me?” The man was a little startled but seeing that I didn’t pose any threat, he said, “It’s finally raining. You know how you wait all day for it to start when you know it’s coming? It’s just a relief when it finally starts.”

Yeah, dude. I totally know that feeling.

CAT → estiuEstació de l’any, entre la primavera i la tardor, que, a l’hemisferi nord, comença el 21 de juny, al solstici d’estiu, i acaba el 23 de setembre, a l’equinocci de tardor. [Season of the year, between spring and fall, which, in the northern hemisphere begins on the 21 of June at the summer solstice and ends on 23 September at the vernal equinox.] ORIGIN Latin aestīvum [summer-like, summer].

EN → summer — the warmest season of the year, in the northern hemisphere from June to August and in the southern hemisphere from December to February. ORIGIN Old English sumor, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch zomer, German Sommer, also to Sanskrit samā [year].

ES  veranoÉpoca más calurosa del año, que en el hemisferio septentrional comprende los meses de junio, julio y agosto. En el hemisferio austral corresponde a los meses de diciembre, enero y febrero. [Hottest period of the year which, in the northern hemispheres is made up of the months of June, July and August.] ORIGIN Low Latin veranum [weather].

FR → étéSaison qui suit le printemps et précède l’automne (du solstice de juin [21 ou 22] à l’équinoxe de septembre [22 ou 23], dans l’hémisphère Nord). [Season which follows spring and precedes autumn from the June solstice (the 21st or 22nd) until the equinox in September (22nd or 23rd) in the northern hemisphere.] ORIGIN Latin aestas [year, summer, heat].

General note: all the definitions included the dates for the southern hemisphere but they made the post too damn long so I cut them.

Spanish-Catalan crossover note: the primary definition in Spanish read estío which was the first time I’d ever come across the word in that language. I’m familiar with it as an adjective, estival, but not as a noun. Curious.

French note: I guess in context it was clear to the Romans if someone meant “year” or “summer” but I’m starting to suspect that there just weren’t enough words in Latin. Of course, maybe if I knew about declinations and all that other business, I wouldn’t think so.

Lots of cool stuff today, including some vindication for Elizabeth, but when crazy languages like Sanskrit show up, I’ve got to go that way. Today’s winner is English for being the most bonkers. Way to win, English!

Leave a comment

Word Mystery: puddle / charco / flaque

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

Nicer to look at than a puddle.

Nicer to look at than a puddle.

I feel like it rains all the time here. Near constant rain or the threat of rain hangs over my head all day long. In the latter cases, when the sky does finally break open and dump its contents directly on me, it’s almost a relief since the tension and anticipation is over and I can just go about my business.

In English, there’s a common children’s couplet that goes, “Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day.” There’s also a saying (at least in the US) that “April showers bring May flowers.”

Well, it’s May and it’s still raining and I don’t even like flowers so I don’t know what to do with myself…except splash in puddles since if I’m gonna be wet, I may as well get properly soaked.

EN puddle — a small pool of liquid, esp. of rainwater on the ground. ORIGIN Middle English: diminutive of Old English pudd [ditch, furrow].

ES charcoAgua, u otro líquido, detenida en un hoyo o cavidad de la tierra o del piso. [Water or other liquid, held in a space or an indentation in the ground or on the floor.] ORIGIN onomatopoeia.

FR flaquepetite mare ou petite nappe de liquide stagnant. [Small pond or sheet of stagnant water.] ORIGIN The Picard language (region in northern France) version of Old French flache [soft].

French note: mind blown. The origin in French read forme picarde and my brain went to “picaresque” which made little sense. After realizing it was a region of France (I really do need to study regional geography more), I wondered what connection it may have to the amazing French frozen-food chain Picard. There isn’t one. Picard is just a fairly common last name.

I don’t know who today’s winner is, though it’s definitely not Spanish. I kind of like pudd, but the French definition is so nice that maybe I should give it to them? I guess I’ll do that.

Monty Python note: Terry Gilliam will be taking another running joust at his version of QUIJOTE in 2015. I can’t wait.

Leave a comment

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.