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: go / ir / aller

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

go forrest goChalk this up to another Word Mystery I should have gotten to a lot sooner, but I am most likely to miss things that are obvious, so it’s not that surprising. What may be a surprise is the end result. Hey! Ho! Let’s go!

EN → go —move from one place or point to another; travel. ORIGIN Old English gān related to Dutch gaan and German gehen; the form “went” was originally the past tense of “wend.”

ES → ir —Moverse de un lugar hacia otro apartado de quien usa el verbo ir y de quien ejecuta el movimiento. [Move oneself from one place to another, the verb is used by the person executing the movement.] ORIGIN Latin ire [flow, go, walk].

FR → aller — Se mouvoir d’un lieu vers un autre, s’y rendre. [Move oneself from one place to another, go there.] ORIGIN Low Latin allare from Classic Latin ambulare [take oneself for a walk].

General note: it seems incredibly unfair to me that the most basic verbs are frequently irregular. It’s like languages don’t even want people to have a fighting chance!

English note: I like crazy conjugation stories. Also, you do not want to know how many trigger words and phrases (definitely hundreds, possibly more) make me think of FORREST GUMP. It’s my #1 movie that I don’t like that I know by heart.

French note: So, aller is basically an early form of flâner? Yes, please.

Today’s Winner: Clearly, French, not just ‘cause it gave me the most trouble when I was learning it for the first time as a wee lass, but ‘cause it’s the least driven, which makes it ironic in a way.


Leave a comment

Word Mystery: frog / rana / grenouille

Michigan J. Frog

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

Lily pads make me think of frogs. That’s how simple today’s Word Mystery seemed in my head. Like many things in life, when I got into it, things got much more complicated.

EN → frog — a tailless amphibian with a short squat body, moist smooth skin, and very long hind legs for leaping. ORIGIN Old English frogga, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch vors and German Frosch.

ES → rana — Amphibia del orden de los Anuros, de unos ocho a quince centímetros de largo, con el dorso de color verdoso manchado de oscuro, verde, pardo, etc., y el abdomen blanco, boca con dientes y pupila redonda o en forma de rendija vertical. [Amphibious creature of the order Anura, about eight to fifteen centimeters long, with a greenish back stained dark, green, brown, etc. and a white abdomen, mouth with teeth and a round pupil or a vertical eye slit.] ORIGIN Latin rana [frog].

FR → grenouille — Amphibien ranidé, très commun dans les eaux douces, caractérisé par son aptitude au saut et à la nage, sa peau nue, sa pupille horizontale et son cri, le coassement. [The true frog amphibian, very common in fresh water, characterized by its ability to jump and swim, its bare (hair-less) skin, its horizontal pupil and its cry, the croak.] ORIGIN Degradation of Old French reinoille from Low Latin ranucula from Latin rana.

English note: my dictionary very helpfully reminds me that “frog” is also an “informal, offensive” term for French people. It also provides this nifty bit of information:

“Used as a general term of abuse in Middle English, the term was applied specifically to the Dutch in the 17th cent.; its application to the French (late 18th cent.) is partly alliterative, partly from the reputation of the French for eating frogs’ legs.” [snerk!]

Spanish note: this definition was super long, so I cut it. I think the RAE is really into animals as I often fall asleep halfway through reading their descriptions. It also reads horribly and would need too much reworking to make it flow better in English. I charge people good money to make stuff read pretty; in my free time, I let these things pass.

French note: A “true frog” is a thing which reminds me that “Peace Frog” by The Doors is a rockin’ tune.

Hypnotoad is watching you

Great pop culture frogs off the top of my head

  • Michigan J. Frog who I think about a lot because I love him. You can see his second Looney Tune here.
  • Kermit the Frog who concerns me because his thing with the pig is really disturbing.
  • Frogger

Honorable mention: Hypnotoad from FUTURAMA

Oh, I guess we need a winner today too, huh? I’d like to go with English since it’s the most out there and frogga seems like a fun word, but the definition kind of grossed me out. Additionally, the French is actually fun to say (just ask my nephew) and it really tried to remove itself from Latin, which I respect.


2 Comments

Word Mystery: Christmas / Navidad / Noël

Wednesdays, I explore the linguistic origins of the same word in different languages. This week is all about that most rockin’ of holidays, so our WM is clear.

2013 Xmas doorTrue Story

On December 11th of 2013, I walked out my apartment and locked the door. As I pulled the key out and turned to head to the elevator, I saw my neighbor’s door and heard myself say, “Bah!”

Except for the being super-wealthy, miserable and unhappy, I am totally a Scrooge.

EN → Christmas — the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, held on December 25 in the Western Church. ORIGIN Old English Crīstes mæsse.

ES → NavidadNatividad de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo. [The birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.] ORIGIN Latin nativĭtas [of Christ, birth, nativity].

FR → NoëlFête de la naissance de Jésus-Christ. [Celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.] ORIGIN Latin natalis dies [day of birth].

English note: how much of a heathen am I that I never put together the Christ’s Mass thing? A really big one. This doesn’t even count as a rabies since there is honestly no way I will ever make religious connections on my own. Hell, I didn’t even see all the Christian messaging in The Chronicles of Narnia until I was a teenager!

Spanish note: I never liked that “lord” and “señor” are equivalents in some instances, but that’s ‘cause I don’t like anyone to think they can lord over me. I’m independent! You can’t oppress me!

French note: logical, inoffensive and not originally all Christ-y. The clear winner. So clear, you could navigate three suspiciously ethnically diverse dudes on camels by its light.


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.


6 Comments

Word Mystery: construction / obras / travaux

zona de obrasEvery Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of the same word in different languages.

The first time my best friend came to Europe, it was with me on a mini-tour through Spain, France and Italy. We met up with my mom in Madrid and tried going to lots of places that interested him but were frequently met with signs that read OBRAS.

“Obras, obras. What the hell’re obras and why are there so many of them?” he asked, extremely annoyed that so few establishments wanted to take our money to let us look at stuff.

At the time, I tried to explain to him that things in Europe work or they don’t, are open or aren’t, and that losing money is seldom a consideration. Now, after nine years of Continental living, I can say that it’s more surprising for things to be open and not under construction since Europe is both old and falling apart.

And now that the weather’s turned not-horrible, the obras are back in town big time. Recently, the part of the Line 1 metro that’s in the center of the city has been closed, leading to me being trapped underground for ages. Being stuck under layers of earth with a bunch of idiots who don’t know where they’re going is one of the few things that still makes me Hulk-out, rage-wise, but I just thought of my friend and how he ended up spending much of our holiday mumbling “Obras, obras, obras,” under his breath and how that made me laugh.

EN → construction — the building of something, typically a large structure. ORIGIN late Middle English: via Old French from Latin construere [heap together].

ES → obras — Edificio en construcción. [A building in/under construction.] ORIGIN Latin operāri [to work].

FR  travaux — Ensemble des opérations de construction, d’aménagement ou de remise en état d’édifices, de voies, de terrains, etc. [All construction operations, development or remodeling of buildings, roads, lands, etc.] ORIGIN Common Latin trepaliare [to torture] from Low Latin trepalium [instrument of torture].

Three scoops of Latin today! I have to admit that so much Latin is starting to make me want to study where those words came from, but this impulse could go one of two ways: I don’t understand anything or I become totally obsessed. Neither of these is appealing.

English note: BO-RING.

Spanish note: Poco interesante.

French note: BIG WINNER! In French, “work” actually comes from “torture”. I love this country so much, it hurts sometimes.