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.


Word Mystery: lunch / comida / déjeuner

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

It’s hard for me to choose a favorite meal of the day as I basically love eating at any time. Lunch is a little bit special for me though since there are whole rituals around it if you bring your own. Because I am kind of a jerk (I am Spanish, after all), if I’m going to go through the trouble of packing something, I want it to be worth the effort and impressive-seeming, even if just to me.

Here’s a good one I whipped up recently which didn’t require any real work on my part since all I did was boil the pasta, then add some artichoke “pesto” and stuffed peppers. No skills or prep work and I got to have a lovely meal out of my totally sweet lunch bag, out of my super cute lunch container and I smiled as I chewed.

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Life is sometimes good, but lunch is pretty much always good.

EN lunch — a meal eaten in the middle of the day, typically one that is lighter or less formal than an evening meal. ORIGIN abbreviation of luncheon, this possibly an extension of obsolete lunch ‘thick piece, hunk,’ from Spanish lonja [slice].

ES comida3. Alimento que se toma al mediodía o primeras horas de la tarde. [Food eaten at midday or in the early hours of the afternoon.] ORIGIN From the verb comer [to eat], this from Latin comedĕre [eat].

FR déjeunerrepas de midi. [Midday meal.] ORIGIN Probably from Latin disjejunare [break fast].

English note: get straight the hell out! “Lunch” comes from the Spanish “slice”?! I find this super doubtful but lovelovelove the idea for reasons I don’t understand. It seems so farfetched! But if it’s true… !!!

Spanish note: if you know some Spanish, you’re not crazy. Comida is also just “food.” I find this doubling up needlessly confusing.

French note: we’ve discussed fasting in some detail before but what I don’t know is when this meal got demoted and petit déjeuner got invented.

Choosing today’s winner is causing me some trouble. Obviously, the origin for the English is the best but since it’s Spanish, who gets the win? Looking back on old posts, I feel like the modern word language gets the point, but I’m feeling like that’s a bit of a let down to la patria. Of course a Spanish Catalan guy just won the French Open, so they don’t need another win. English it is.


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!

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Word Mystery: mirror / espejo / Spiegel

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

I recently saw Disney’s SLEEPING BEAUTY for the first time and was significantly blown away by how beautiful it is. The background images are very stylized and I love them. I wish I had wallpaper of some of the forest scenes so that I could sleep surrounded by weird ferns and gnarled trees.


Besides being stunning to look at, the story is well told and not at all annoying (unlike Disney’s SNOW WHITE which I can’t get through because Snow’s voice makes me want to tear my ears off). Also fun: finding a Word Mystery in the looking glass!

EN → mirror — a reflective surface, now typically of glass coated with a metal amalgam, that reflects a clear image. ORIGIN from Old French mirour, based on Latin mirare [look at].

ES → espejoTabla de cristal azogado por la parte posterior, y también de acero u otro material bruñido, para que se reflejen en él los objetos que tenga delante. [Glass piece which is silvered on the back (also steel or other brushed metal) so that objects placed in front of it are reflected.] ORIGIN Latin specŭlum.

GR → SpiegelGegenstand aus Glas oder Metall, dessen glänzende, glatte Fläche Bilder, optische Erscheinungen zurückwirft. [An article of glass or metal which reflects back the shiny, smooth surface of photo optical phenomena.] ORIGIN Latin specŭlum.

Spanish note: this is one of the most oddly worded definitions I’ve come across. I usually waver between semi-literal translations and ones that read better, but this one kind of stumped me. Even in Spanish I think it reads badly. Loses just because it offended me on an aesthetic level.

German note: I’m more than a little disappointed that this shares the exact same root as Spanish. I wonder how many Latin words root German ones? Will have to look into this.

German note Zwei: I don’t speak German. I only know this word because it’s printed on the side of my mirror.

Today’s winner is English since I love the Latin meaning.

⇒ See more backgrounds from SLEEPING BEAUTY by clicking here or here.

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Word Mystery: fear / miedo / peur

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

This video is one of the most charming I’ve seen in a long while. An ad for Vodaphone, it is the (purportedly) true story of two elderly women, An and Ria, who’ve never been on an airplane, flying to Barcelona.

An (the less gregarious one) begins the video with a palpable fear of flying which reminded me that “fear” is a Word Mystery. Fasten your seat belts, there may be turbulence ahead.

EN → fear — an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. ORIGIN Old English fǣr [calamity, danger].

ES → miedo — perturbación angustiosa del ánimo por un riesgo o daño real o imaginario. [Disruptive anxious mood caused by a real or imagined danger.] ORIGIN Latin metus [dread, awe].

FR → peur — sentiment d’angoisse éprouvé en présence ou à la pensée d’un danger, réel ou supposé, d’une menace. [Feeling of anxiety experienced in the presence or thought of danger, real or imagined; a menace.] ORIGIN Latin pavor [fear, panic].

Today’s winner is English because it’s not Latin and, as always with Old English, I imagine Richard Burton saying the word and it sounds super cool in my head.