L’esprit d’escalier: (French) The feeling you get after leaving a conversation, when you think of all the things you should have said. Translated it means “the spirit of the staircase.”

Waldeinsamkeit: (German) The feeling of being alone in the woods.

Meraki: (Greek) Doing something with soul, creativity, or love.

Forelsket: (Norwegian) The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love.

Gigil: (Filipino) The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute.

Pochemuchka: (Russian) A person who asks a lot of questions.

Pena ajena: (Mexican Spanish) The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation.

Cualacino: (Italian) The mark left on a table by a cold glass.

Ilunga: (Tshiluba, Congo) A person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time.

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It is my firm belief that one should watch assorted Monty Python on a regulated basis, because it makes you think about the important things in life.

Or at the very least, its well-crafted British humour (note the spelling) may lead you to wonder about poignant, worldly intellectual issues. Or at least ponder its funnies.

Take, for example, a scene from The Holy Grail, in which the knights are attempting to decipher an inscription that will lead them to the grail:

Brother Maynard: "It reads: ‘Here may be found the last words of Joseph of Arimathea. He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail in the Castle of A-a-a-a-a-gh…"

King Arthur: "What?"
Maynard: "The Castle of A-a-a-a-a-gh."
Bedevere: "What is that?"
Maynard: "He must’ve died while carving it."
Lancelot: "Oh, come on."
Maynard: "Well, that’s what it says."
King Arthur: "Look, if he was dying, he wouldn’t bother to carve ‘A-a-a-a-gh.’ He’d just say it."
Maynard: "That’s what’s carved in the rock."
Galahad: "Perhaps he was dictating."

 

And this made me think of all the times throughout history when spelling, grammar, and authorial intent has gone flying out the window, often spectacularly.

Sometimes, it’s a simple matter of translation:imageMmmm, tasty.

Or maybe, a word is left out:

image I don’t see this ending well…

Perhaps, a well-intended handwritten sign:image

Or even “intellectuals” asleep on the jobimage

The word ‘phusei’ was spelled with an ‘S’ rather than the Greek letter sigma, which looks similar to a capital ‘E.’ Whoops!

 

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“M-A-R-….O-L-Z…H?”

And then we go back in time, and see odd junk like this, where even the chisel doesn’t make excuses for the illegible mess.

(But, then again, even the Romans F’ed up – and we know they were the shit. )

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Or maybe some careless craftsman broke it, and left it there to puzzle future scholars, and to inspire countless future theses and dissertations.

  And for that reason, I offer my thanks to humanity, for keeping the wonder/frustration/scholarship/face-palming alive since the B.C’s.

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Wrapped up in my love of all things written is a passion for words, and, respectively, their origins. After all, who doesn’t get a kick out of knowing that “bookworm” comes from the name for “a group of insects which largely have in common their love of devouring parts of books and other documents?”1 

Well I do.

Therefore, when a question about the word “embarrass” came up in my Latin class last week (we were learning superlatives and I think it was the double “s” that clinched it) I decided to look it up (ok, so I decided to do this while typing up thesis notes, but don’t judge me, procrastination is an art – and have I told you the origin of “procrastination?” Oh yes, I think I have.)

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First we must visit our old friend the OED, who tells us that “Embarrass, v” first means:

1. trans. To encumber, hamper, impede (movements, actions, persons moving or acting)."

b. pass. Of persons: To be ‘in difficulties’ from want of money; to be encumbered with debts.

 

And then the 2nd definition, part B, is,

b. To make (a person) feel awkward or ashamed, esp. by one’s speech or actions; to cause (someone) embarrassment."

Then we come across this helpful passage:

“The English word embarrassed has taken an unusual path into English. The first written usage of embarrass in English was in 1664 by Samuel Pepys in his diary. The word was derived from the French word embarrasser, "to block," or "obstruct",1 whose first recorded usage was by Michel de Montaigne in 1580. The French word was derived from the Spanish embarazar, whose first recorded usage was in 1460 in Cancionero de Stúñiga (Songbook of Stúñiga) by Álvaro de Luna.2 The Spanish word comes from the Portuguese embaraçar, which is a combination of the prefix em- (from Latin im- for "in-") with baraço or baraça, "a noose", or "rope".3 Baraça originated before the Romans began their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in 218 BC.4 Thus, baraça could be related to the Celtic word barr, "tuft." (Celtic people actually settled much of Spain and Portugal beginning in the 700s BC, the second group of people to do so.)5 However, it certainly is not directly derived from it, as the substitution of r for rr in Ibero-Romantic languages was not a known occurrence.

The Spanish word may come from the Italian imbarazzare, from imbarazzo, "obstacle" or "obstruction." That word came from imbarrare, "to block," or "bar," which is a combination of in-, "in" with barra, "bar" (from the Vulgar Latin barra, which is of unknown origin).6 The problem with this theory is that the first known usage of the word in Italian was by Bernardo Davanzati (1529–1606), long after the word had entered Spanish."2

 Ta-Da! We can now see how the English verb embarrass comes is connected to the Latin verb imbarrare.

And we can also see many of us, sadly, due to out lack of exuberance of funds, are unable to avoid embarrassment in daily life.

BUT – at least we can explain what it means, linguistically. Zing!