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: 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.

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Word Mystery: strike / huelga / grève

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

Not the day in question.

Not the day in question.

Summertime in Europe means things will be closed and people will go on strike.

Last year, there was the strike by the workers at the Louvre to raise awareness of how much petty crime was happening there. (That’s the nice spin on a story that can also be read as the employees just being fed up with stupid tourists getting pick-pocketed and then coming to them to complain even though their job is to protect the art.)

Last week, the workers at the Eiffel Tower went on strike for several hours because they basically want more stuff across the board. Better pay, better hours, better job security, etc. Apparently nothing was good enough since they asked for pretty much everything except getting paid not to work at all.

Man, these French people don’t know how to appreciate a decent job with a decent wage. Here I am, writing five days a week to provide you entertainment and no one’s paying me anything. Maybe I should go on strike! Vive la France!

EN → strike — a refusal to work organized by a body of employees as a form of protest, typically in an attempt to gain a concession or concessions from their employer. ORIGIN Old English strican [make smooth, stroke, rub]. Modern meaning probably from 1700s when sailors would “strike the sails,” lowering all sails and making them smooth against the mast, as a signal that they would not go to sea.

ES → huelga — 2. Interrupción colectiva de la actividad laboral por parte de los trabajadores con el fin de reivindicar ciertas condiciones o manifestar una protesta. [Collective interruption of work by the part of the workers with the goal of demanding certain conditions or to organize a protest.] ORIGIN From verb holgar [to be idle], from Late Latin follicāre [blow, breathe].

FR → grève — Cessation collective et concertée du travail en vue d’appuyer des revendications professionnelles dont l’employeur a connaissance. [Collective work stoppage aimed at supporting worker claims about which the employer has been made aware.] ORIGIN From Place de la Grève, name of a square in Paris where unemployed factory workers would go to make themselves available for work.

English note: I was initially surprised to learn that “strike” came from a word that means “smooth” but when combined with the phrase, “strike the sails” which I had heard, it makes a lot more sense. Also surprising: there are 11 definitions for “strike.”

Spanish note: I love the word holgar and am sad I forgot it.

French note: The former Place de la Grève is now the home to the Hôtel de Ville, aka City Hall. I found two different stories about other stuff that used to go down in the square, one in English and another in French. Take both with a grain of salt.

Following on the French note: there’s a word in English for the kind of place the Place de la Grève used to be; does anyone know it? From what I’ve gathered, if you go to the parking lot of a Home Depot or similar place in the morning, there will be a bunch of guys waiting around, hoping to get some day labor gig. I can’t for the life of me remember what that’s called.

I’m not gonna lie. Spain was going to run away with the win today regardless since I’ve had the most experience with Spanish strikes and love the sound of huelga [well-gah].


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!


Word Mystery: gos / dog / perro / chien

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

Someone recently told me that I was “very brave” for quitting a good job in the US and moving to Europe. I didn’t want to get into specifics with them, but once the idea was planted in my head by a friend of mine, leaving the US was the only way forward for me.

One of the big reasons was that I realized that my goals in life were 1) to be happy more often than not and 2) to have a dog. Professional accolades and upward mobility and the admiration of my peers are things I don’t care about at all and which consume the American way of life. Having a bigger house, a better car and the most prodigious children are all things I actively don’t want and which a lot of people obsess about.

A handsome perro I used to know.

A handsome perro I used to know.

But a dog would be good for me (requiring me to get up at regular times every day) and having one is something I’ve thought about for so long that I’ve decided on many different names. An early contender was Aslan, but I’m too old for Narnia now. Once in Spain, I thought Huxley would be funny since “H” is a hard sound for them to make, but in recent years I’ve settled on the perfect name for a dog, the only name that should ever be given to one really: Gos.

CAT → gosmamífer domèstic de la família dels cànids. [Domesticated mammal from the Canidae family.] ORIGIN Derived from the sound “gus” or “kus” used to call dogs or when addressing dogs.

EN → dog — a domesticated carnivorous mammal that typically has a long snout, an acute sense of smell, and a barking, howling, or whining voice. ORIGIN Old English docga, of unknown origin.

ES  perroMamífero doméstico de la familia de los Cánidos, de tamaño, forma y pelaje muy diversos, según las razas. [Domesticated mammal of the Canidae family, of varying sizes, shapes and fur, according to breed.] ORIGIN Onomatopoeia from the sound made to call a dog, “perr perr.”

FR → chienMammifère (canidé) carnivore aux multiples races, caractérisé par sa facilité à être domestiqué, par une course rapide, un excellent odorat et par son cri spécifique, l’aboiement. [Canine mammal of various breeds, chracterized by how easily it is domesticated, by how quickly it runs, its excellent sense of smell and its unique call, the bark.] ORIGIN Latin canis [dog].

Catalan note: In many parts of Catalunya, people say ca instead of gos. This is derived from the Latin canis and is widely understood but is technically incorrect.

Spanish note: My BFF had a cat when we were little and I used to beckon her in the only way I knew how, by calling out Psst-psst, michiña which was how we did it on the farm. She taught me that in English, one says, “Here, kitty-kitty.” I don’t see how that makes more sense since cats sure as hell don’t recognize adverbs more than exclamations.

English note: Since I started running this feature, “unknown origin” has become one of my favorite phrases. Mysteries in mysteries! Get Edward E. Nigma on the case!

Today’s winner is Catalan, since it’s among the best words ever.