Sunday, December 16, 2012

Truth will out Part II

6)      Did the Nazis invent the Swastika and the Concentration Camps?
            This is a false assumption as this symbol was used by various ancient cultures in China, India, Japan and others.  Originally it had a positive meaning until the Nazi regime adopted it as its emblem.  As for the concentration camps, they were invented by the English during the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902) where over 40 thousand perished.  In 1915-16 Turkish nationalists organized a genocide campaign against the Armenian people and killed over 800 thousand of them. Hitler must have been inspired by this genocide which led him to the creation of large-scale gas chambers which were used to incinerate six millions Jews.
7) Was the Catholic Church wrong in blaming the Jewish people as a whole for condemning Jesus to death?
It is ironic to think that Mary, Jesus and all the apostles were Hebrews. Many commentators had, over the years, urged the Church to establish the historical truth.  Finally in 1986, Pope John Paul II, during his historical visit to the Synagogue of Rome, clearly stated that no fault could be attributed to the Jews living at that time and to those of today. Pope Benedict XVI, in his book “Jesus of Nazareth” reasserts now the same idea expressed by Pope Vojtyla, thus freeing the Jewish people from the accusation of killing Jesus.  Is this an  atonement or a “mea culpa”?
                     8) Did Marconi invent the radio that he patented in England in            1895?
       He was the first to carry out a wireless intercontinental transmission in 1903 from a station located in Massachusetts carrying an exchange between Theodore Roosevelt and King Edward VII.  However in 1943 the American Supreme Court overturned Marconi’s patent by crediting Nikola Tesla with being the first person to patent radio technology.  Tesla was born in Croatia in 1856 and studied electrical engineering in Austria.  He emigrated to the USA in 1889 and died (a pauper) in New York City in 1943.
      You might like to know that the tesla is used as the unit of the strength of a magnetic field.

9) Did  Eve  really offer Adam an apple?
The Bible doesn’t specify what kind of fruit it was. Many commentators think that it was a fruit from a fig tree because, as soon as Adam and Eve noticed that they were naked, they sewed together fig leaves and made girdles  to cover themselves. Only in Medieval times was the tree linked to the apple, maybe because of the similarity of the Latin sound “malum” which refers to evil as well as to apple. The acceptance of the apple became quite popular in such linguistic expressions as “Adam’s apple”, a protrusion in front of the neck that, according to a legend, came about when a piece of this fruit got stuck in his throat causing a lump. The apple is used as a symbol of N.Y. City (Big Apple).  Apple is the logo and name of a computer company that nowadays produces iPhones, iPads and iPods, in addition to laptop computers.  Snow White died of a poisoned apple. William Tell placed an apple on his son’s head that he pierced with an arrow.

 9) Were there animals at the original nativity scene of Jesus?
 Pope Benedict XVI, in his new book “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives” says that the Christians have it all wrong as there were no angels, no donkeys, no oxen and definitely no carols beside the crib.  In fact he writes that “In the gospels there is no mention of animals”. Therefore, according to Benedict XVI, they should not appear in the crib.

10) Was Santa Claus always dressed in red and white?
The image of Santa Claus dressed in red and white was created in the 1930’s by Coca-Cola, as the Company was looking for ways to increase sales.
In Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol”, Santa is described as having a green robe and a red beard.  In many English speaking countries outside the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, he is known as Father Christmas, in Italy as Babbo Natale, in France as Père Noël, in Spanish speaking countries Papá Noël, San Nicolás or even Santa Claus.

11)   Who really discovered America? The Vikings,  Christopher Columbus, or  Amerigo Vespucci?
This is a controversial question.  There is evidence that the Vikings were the first to land on the northeastern shores of North America and to make contact with the Indians. Leif Ericson landed in Newfoundland, Canada, around 1000 A.D. He set up a colony there called Vinland, but he abandoned it after a year or two. As for Columbus we all learned at school that “in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and ever since he was given credit for discovering America.  Vespucci’s great contribution was to tell Europe that the land that Columbus had found was not the Orient (Asia) but a New World which was later called America in honour of Amerigo Vespucci.                                 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Truth will out

       Part I

As this proverb states the truth cannot be concealed indefinitely as it will eventually come to light. Here are some historical lies that we have been led to believe.  This is due to the fact that in the old times historians never verified the facts, mainly because the rich and powerful had absolute control of everything, while modern historians use a more scientific method to get to the truth.
1)   Were the Pyramids really built by slaves?
Contrary to popular belief modern historians have now discovered that the pyramid builders were local people, Egyptians who received a regular salary for their work, and not slaves or foreigners. After the construction of the pyramids these workers were involved in the construction of monumental tombs. How did this belief come about? Some say that it is the fault of Greek historians who couldn’t imagine that such edifices could be built without using masses of slaves.
2)   Did Galileo say “And yet it does move (Eppur si muove)”in reference to the earth moving around the sun?
Experts say that it is unlikely that he muttered it as it would have been extremely dangerous to say so in front of the Inquisition, knowing that a few years before Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer, was burned at the stake for espousing the heliocentric theory of Copernicus. Galileo was advised by the church to talk about his ideas as a theory and  not as a fact. However, in his 1632 new book Dialogue  on the  Great World Systems he sided with Copernicanism , by ridiculing the Aristotelians for embracing the Ptolemaic theory which was accepted by the Church.
Because of this he was called to Rome in 1633 to face the Inquisition , and after 18 days of interrogation he was imprisoned   until  he died in 1642.
In 1989 the first spacecraft launched by NASA, to probe Jupiter, was named Galileo, in honour of the astronomer Galileo Galilei. Finally, once that the notion of the earth revolving around the stationary sun could not be disputed any more, Pope John Paul II, in 1992, acknowledged publicly that the Vatican had made an error in convicting Galileo.

3)   “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Is President Kennedy the originator of this quote? Kennedy used  it at his inaugural address in1961. Although he did not take credit for the quote, people attribute it to him. The original quote comes from Marcus Tullius Cicero, a successful lawyer and statesman and one of Rome’s  greatest orator.

4)      Was Alexander Graham Bell the inventor of the telephone?
The real inventor was the Italian Antonio Meucci. He was living in Cuba when he discovered that sounds  can travel through copper wire. In 1850 he moved to the USA to continue his research  and in 1860 he conducted a public demonstration of his invention.  Meucci couldn’t afford the $ 250 fee to take out a patent  so he sent a model with the technical specifications to the Western Union telegraph company, but was unable to meet the senior executive of the company.  Two years later, Alexander Graham Bell, who was working in the laboratory with Meucci, paid for a patent for the telephone and made a deal with Western Union that made him a lot of money. Antonio Meucci sued Bell. In 1889, when it looked  like Meucci may win the case, he died and the court case stopped. Ever since , Bell has been known as the inventor of the telephone. However, in 2002, 113 years after Meucci’s death, the American Congress recognized officially that it was Meucci and not Bell who invented the telephone.

5)      Was President G.W. Bush justified in attacking Iraq in 2003?
Certainly not, as it is common knowledge now that Saddam did  not participate in the attack of 9/11 nor did he possess WMD (weapons of mass destruction) as the President  had claimed.
Bush was determined to eliminate Saddam at any cost by avoiding diplomacy and by forging Intelligence documents, he led the USA into a war under false pretenses.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Trip to Italy

I'd like to share with you some of the amazing things that I discovered during my trip to Italy.                             
Of the many historical sites visited four really stood out : The Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi), St. John Lateran Basilica,(Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano), The Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere (Santa Maria in Trastevere), and The Nuraghe in Sardinia.

 Trevi Fountain

It was built in 1735, stands 26 m high and is 20 m wide.  It's  the most  famous fountain in Rome.
It is difficult to get a shot of the fountain without a stranger in the picture, on account of the crowds of people coming from all over the world, taking pictures of the fountain at every hour of the day and night. According to the traditional  legend the throwing of one coin into the fountain will guarantee a return trip to the Eternal City. A newer story says that throwing   two coins will lead to a new romance, while three coins will ensure either a marriage or a divorce. Don't forget to toss a coin with your right hand and cross it over the left shoulder, with your back to the fountain, then  make your wish and throw it into the fountain.
Apparently tourists throw in approximately  120 000 Euros a year. The money is mostly donated to a charity that gives food to poor people.  Since there have been attempts to steal the money from the fountain the police now guard it 24 hours a day.

The fountain is built at the junction of 3 roads hence the name Trevi (Trivium or tre vie). It was here that Fellini filmed some scenes for the film La Dolce Vita starring Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg. The fountain was turned off and draped in black when M. Mastroianni died in 1996.  The fountain was also used for some scene in the 1953 film Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Part of the film is replicated at the Italian Pavillion at Epcot in Walt Disney World, Florida, USA.The Trevi Fountain is at the end of the Aqua Virgo (Acqua Vergine) an acqueduct constructed in 19 B.C. It brings water to Rome  from the Salone Springs 22 Km away. Three Coins in The Fountain is a 1954 American romantic comedy film, a story of 3 American women working in Rome and dreaming of finding romance in the Eternal City. In 1955 this film was given two Academy Awards for Best Song and Best Cinematography.

St. John  Lateran  Basilica
This is the cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome. It was built in 318 A.D. by Constantine I. This church war rebuilt at least 3 times on account of 2 destructive fires and an earthquake. It's one of the most important of the 4 main Basilicas and it ranks 4th of 524 attractions in Rome.
San Giovanni in Laterano is the largest church in Rome, since St Peter's is in the state of Vatican. It is  30 m by 54 m.  The interior of the church is richly decorated with 7 silver altars and more than hundred chandeliers. What a sight to see here! On both sides of  the center aisle are larger than life marble statues of the 12 apostles. Just outside the church there is an octagonal baptistry  which was for many generations the only one in Rome.  This basilica is a must see for anyone going to Rome.  Remember that here you don't have to queue up.

 Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere

 La Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Rome. It is the 5th most important church in Rome. Construction started in 221 A.D. and completed in 352. I was  fascinated by the paintings that adorn the entire ceiling and walls. Mass is usually said in the chapels found on both sides of the church.
The mosaic designs that adorn the floor are absolutely impressive.  Interior decorations are  stunning.  The church is in a quiet neighborhood called Trastevere, name that derives from the Latin 'Trans Tiber" i.e. across (beyond )the Tiber, a river that crosses Rome. Here you can go for a walk along the river and admire the architecture of the buildings on both sides of the river. Today Trastevere is also known for its night life and for its narrow streets full of pubs, restaurants and clubs
I strongly recommend visiting this church.

 Nauraghe Civilization (Sardinia)


 This was my first visit to Sardinia (it.Sardegna) which impressed me not only for the beauty of its beaches and the colours of the water, but most of all for the discovery of the Nuragic Civilization.  I say discovery because I was aware of the influence of the Greek and Roman civilizations but I had never read or heard of Nuragic Culture which reached Sardinia almost 2000 years before the Roman. The nuraghe edifice that you see is an ancient conical stone edifice that  dates back to  18-15 BC.  Today it has come to be the symbol of Sardinia and its distinctive culture, the Nuragic. This word is related to the Sardinian nurra  (heap of stones).  In fact the round wall is being held by the weight of its stones  which may each amount to several tons.  Nuraghes can reach up to 20 m in height. An interior stone spiral stair, through the thick walls, leads to the upper floors and to the terrace above. As reported by some prehistoric scholars, the architecture produced by the Nuragic civilization was more advanced than any civilization in the western Mediterranean during this period (epoch).  The most imposing and best preserved Nuraghe is the Nuraghe Sant'Antine near the village of Torralba   in the province of Sassari.  Experts don't seem to agree on the use of the nuraghes, whether they were ordinary dwellings, military strongholds,  religious temples or a combination of them all.                                                               

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Origins of Fear

Times of crisis, such as  the present economic and financial crises, cause greater uncertainty and set a very fertile ground for these irrational beliefs of fears and superstitions.   No wonder  there is an increasing number of people who believe in superstitions. Most superstitions have to do with luck.  We all have the need to know what luck will bring us.  What did we do wrong to bring  doom crashing on our heads?  All the world is superstitious in one way or another.  Some don't admit it.  Omens and signs indicate what the future might hold.  "Red sky at night, sailors delight" indicates a fine day weather wise.  "Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning" indicates bad stormy weather.  You may "cross your fingers " for luck,  "avoid stepping under ladders" to avoid bad luck.  These actions of  superstitious persons are intended to protect them from dangers. 
A bird flying into your house or a picture falling from the wall might mean the death of a family member. Instead,  if your palm itches you will soon be receiving money.  You  like this one, don't you?
 How did the belief of a black cat crossing the street bringing bad luck originate?  There are various explanations .  Some say that black cats are associated with the darkness.  Others say that it is due to our ancestors' fear of the night.  Among all the different stories , the most plausible one is the fact that in the past it was very difficult to see a black cat at night as there were no street lights.  Very often horses would get scared on account of the sudden appearance of a black cat, thus causing the carriage , together with the horseman, to overturn (tip over).
Notice the horseshoe in my title is turned up, that's so your luck doesn't run out while visiting my pages.       
Most superstitions have historical origins thus it's possible to give a rational explanation of their popularity (diffusion).  In the 5th century B.C. Thucydides, the greatest Greek historian, wrote that fear was the cause of all aggressions.  Sparta attacked Athens which was about to become one of the most powerful state, thus causing the 30 year Peloponnesian War.
Aristotle said that "Fear is the cause of evil.  We all fear evil like shame, poverty, sickness, death, lack of friends."
Today we too fear diseases like cancer, aids, which are the modern equivalent of the Medieval fears of leprosy, syphilis, plague.
 Some think that fear has given birth to many religions. In fact when Adam found  himself naked, after eating from the tree of knowledge, he was overtaken by fear before shame.  It's fair to say that every epoch has its fears:  Fear of the collapse of the economy in 1929, fear of the spread of communism in the ‘50’s. This was the period of horror films: “Psycho” of A. Hitchcock in 1960, “The Exorcistin 1973, “Jaws” in 1975.  The XXI century brought us H1N1 or swine flu ,the H5N1 known as the bird flu together with the West Nile virus and the Lyme disease are now coming back and scaring many people.                                                                                                                                       
 For Thomas Hobbes, English philosopher, it was the mistrust among men "Homo homini lupus"(man is a wolf toward the other man) that made necessary the creation of social hierarchies such as the state which had to be founded on the fear of death and punishment.
For Machiavelli, the prince  had to be feared more than loved.  Fear protected primitive people from wild animals, weather storms, diseases. 
I couldn't agree more with Bertrand Russell who wrote: "Fear is the first source of superstitions and cruelty."  
Over centuries the effects of these fears have been amplified and used by governments in order to keep social order as well as to promote an attack as a defensive act.  This same strategy was used by the US president, George W. Bush, in order to create a consensus to attack Iraq under the guise of a preventive war after 9/11.
In short, fear has always influenced human decisions.  However, to paraphrase President Roosevelt,"what we have most to fear is fear itself."

PS. I'll be away for the month of September.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Beliefs, Fears and Superstitions

Superstitions are irrational beliefs and a lot of them have Latin origins.  Tuesday, among the Romans , was considered a very unlucky day.  It was a Roman tradition to distinguish between "dies fasti" ( lucky days ) and "dies nefasti"(unlucky days).  The number 13 is considered an unlucky number in some countries as it reminds them of the Last Supper with 13 people around the table. Some claim that Judas Iscariot sat at the 13th place . In the Anglo-Saxon world Friday the 13th is the unluckiest day of the month. As a result many buildings don't have a 13th floor .  Apollo 13 was the only unsuccessful mission to the moon and the explosion occurred on April 13, 1970.  The tragedy of the Costa Concordia happened the night between the 13th and 14th of January 2012.  Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden on a Friday, Noah's flood  started on a Friday.  For Spain and Latin American countries Tuesday the 13th  is a day of mala suerte (bad luck). I should mention that Friday the 13th , has long been considered lucky in Judaism .  In the Italian culture the number 17, and not 13, is considered unlucky.  The number 17 is viewed as the  Roman numeral  XVII and then changed anagrammatically to VIXI , perfect tense of the Latin verb "vivere" (to live), which translates to "I have lived" implying "my life is over".  Furthermore, if Friday 17 comes in November, that is the unluckiest day of all, because November 2 is all souls day. When that happens, November is called  "the month of the deceased".  The Italians go to a great extent to avoid the number 17, in fact the Italian airline, Alitalia, does not have a seat 17. Renaud, the auto French Co., sold its "R17" model in Italy as "R177".  Gabriele D'Annunzio, famous Italian writer, would never date a letter day 13, he would instead use "12+1". In Italy and most European countries there is widespread conviction that seeing a black cat crossing a street brings bad luck.  In UK  black cats are a sign of good luck.  In North America, it's considered bad luck if a black cat crosses your path and good luck if the  cat is white. If you live in Germany you probably believe that if a black cat crosses your path from left to right is bad omen, but from right to left will bring favourable times. It's bad to walk under a ladder, but we knock on wood, cross our fingers and bless a person for sneezing, to ward off bad luck.  Italians touch iron, and not wood,  for protection, or they show the horned hand (corna) which consists in using the thumb to hold  down the middle and ring fingers, then extend the index finger and the pinkie. 

Great men and their Fears 
Caesar feared insects and spiders.  Caesar Augustus had an obsessive fear of darkness, in fact he always wanted a servant next to him every night, so he could light a candle in case he would wake up.  He also suffered from anxiety attack during storms.
 Alexander the Great was afraid of being alone in the house.  Napoleon feared cats.
Stalin feared of being killed in a "coup d'état".  Hitler was  claustrophobic. 
Churchill was afraid of dirt that's why he would spend lot time in the bathtub. 
Lincoln feared beautiful women.  Mussolini was afraid of bacteria and microbes, and  to avoid a handshake, which he considered  anti-hygienic, they say he instituted the Roman Salute (Saluto Romano), gesture in which the right arm is held out forward straight with palm down.  In 1942 President Roosevelt  instituted the hand over the heart  as the salute.  As for fear , in his first inaugural speech he said : "All we have to fear is fear itself."
 Pablo Picasso, whose paintings were a masterpiece, was terrified by the fear of becoming poor.  Alfred Hitchcock would get into a cold sweat at the very sight of an egg.  Michael Jackson was terrorized by the fear of germs.  Natalie Wood, who feared water, died by drowning.  Marilyn Monroe had a fear of public or open places.  Madonna is scared of something that she can neither see nor feel and that is thunder.

PS.  Since  I’ll be taking a summer hiatus, I like to wish you all a safe and happy summer.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Latin and the Romance languages

Latin and the Romance Languages
Those of you who have either read my Multilingual Anthology of  proverbs, sayings, clichés and idiomatic expressions, or read my articles on this blog, know that my research is geared toward the three most widely spoken Romance languages: Spanish, French and Italian respectively.
Spanish with 330 million native speakers and 417 million second language speakers, French with 70 million native speakers and 110 million second language speakers, Italian with 62 million native speakers and 60 million as a second language speakers. All the Romance languages developed from Latin in the 6th to 9th century. Latin was born in the 5th century B.C. and was the tongue of farmers who lived at the mouth of the Tiber.
I should mention that the Romance languages, in order of speakers, is made up of Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan and many others, and there are 800 million native speakers worldwide.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century Vulgar Latin evolved into individual Romance tongues. No wonder all these Romance languages have many similar features, both in grammar and vocabulary. The difference between them is mainly phonetical.
The first text in French appeared in the 9th century, in Spanish and Italian in the 10th century. In Italy many prominent writers and poets used vernacular of their own accord. One of the most famous is Dante Alighieri (1265-1321).
Latin and its Influence on the English Language.

We might not study Latin but we continue  to spice our English language,  like salt and pepper, with Latin words or phrases.  When Caesar landed in Britain there was no English.  Modern English has imported words from over 350 languages around the world.  No wonder David Crystal, famous linguist, defines English a vacuum-cleaner of a language.  A significant part of the English vocabulary, about 65%, comes from Latin.  Sometimes the Latin word is identical to English, at other times it has been adapted.
Here is a brief list of Latin  words that are now part of our everyday English vocabulary:
addenda, ad infinitum,  affidavit, agenda, alma mater, alter ego, auditorium, aurora borealis (australis), bonus, campus, fetus, habeas corpus, in absentia, in vitro, memorandum, millennium, nucleus, pandemonium, penis, per capita, persona non grata, podium, post partum, premium, quorum, referendum, senior, solarium, stadium, status quo, terminus, vertebra, viceversa, villa, virus, etc. etc.
Think of the abbreviations for Latin phrases that we often use: A.D. (anno domini), A.M. (ante meridiem), P.M. (post meridiem, C.V.(curriculum vitae), P.S. (post scriptum), i.e. (id est), e.g.(exempli gratia). What about B.A., M.A. Cum Laude, Magna cum laude and Summa cum laude ?
As you can see Latin has had a great influence on our medical, academic, legal and scientific terminology.
Let’s not forget that Latin quotes and phrases as “Amor caecus est”(Love is blind) that we use regularly today were coined by Roman writers such as
Virgil : “Amor vincit omnia”(Love conquers all),
            “Audentis fortuna iuvat”(Fortune favours the brave),
Cicero : “Dum vita est, spes est”(While there is life there is hope),
                “Non ut edam vivo sed ut vivam edo”(Eat to live not live to eat).
Juvenal : “Mens sana in corpore sano” (A sound mind in a sound body).
Horace :  “Carpe diem”(Seize the day).
Julius Caesar : “Veni, vidi, vici”(I came, I saw , I conquered).
                          “Alia iacta est”(The die is cast).
Ovid :  “Credula res amor est” (In love you believe anything).
Ovid , author of many books, wrote “Ars amandi”(The Art of Love)
            where he cites how to pick up women at the gladiators shows.
There is no doubt that contributions of the classical Latin to the world have been many. Here is a list of  Latin mottos of various states and universities  in USA and Canada.
USA : A pluribus unum.
Arizona: Ditat Deu
Colorado: Nil sine Lumine
District of Columbia: Iustitia omnibus.
Kansas: Ad astra per aspera.
Missouri: Salus popoli suprema lex esto.
New York: Excelsior.
Oklahoma: Labor omnia vincit.
South Carolina: Dum spiro, spero
Columbia University: In lumine tuo videbimus lumen.
Harvard University: Veritas.
Notre Dame University: Crux spes unica.
Princeton University: Dei sub numine viget.
Yale University: Lux et veritas.
Latin Mottos for Canada, some Provinces and Universities:
Canada: A mari usque ad mare.
Alberta: Fortis et liber.
Manitoba:Gloriosus et liber.
Ontario: Ut incepit fidelis sic permanet.
Concordia University : Concordia salus.
McGill University : Grandescunt aucta labore.
Université de Montréal : Fide splendet et scientia.
University of Toronto : Velut arbor aevo.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Amusing Idiomatic Phrases

There is no doubt that some entries are quite humorous, others represent everyday phrases. In North America we all say that the weather can be hot as hell some days and cold as hell another. A feeble-minded person often sticks his neck out or maybe shoots his mouth off. I should mention that English muffins were not invented in England nor French fries in France. It seems that  North Americans called these fried potato strips French fries because they were popularized by French immigrants. French toast was not invented in France because it was around before France became a country, in fact it dates back to 4th century Imperial Rome where it was called pan dulcis. Before being called French toast the French called it pain à la Romaine. In France is presently know as pain perdu, in Quebec as pain doré. The name French toast first appeared in print in 1871. Let’s have some fun with these Spanish idiomatic phrases: Estar vivo y coleando (To be alive and wagging your tail) which corresponds to “To be alive and kicking”. Hay muchos modos de matar pulgas(There are many ways to kill fleas) which is equivalent to“There is more than one way to skin a cat”. What a splendid Spanish way to be daydreaming, i.e. Estar bailando en Belén (to be dancing in Bethlehem).Obviously one can also dream by being in the clouds or on the moon. This next one gives me a confortable feeling “ to be loaded with cash” but the Spanish one gives me a much warmer feeling “Tener más lana que un borrego”(to have more wool than a lamb). “To throw money down the drain” becomes “Tirar el dinero por la ventana”(  Throw money out of  the window).
All the idiomatic expressions mentioned so far are from the Spanish used in Spain, I like to introduce you to some Latin-American linguistic peculiarities. “To kick the bucket” in Nicaragua one peels the garlic,in El Salvador he ties up his bundle. In Venezuela you’re not A fish out of the water”but a cockroach at a chicken dance.  The next set of idioms really intrigues me  as each country gives a different version. Our  North American expression “To play hooky or to cut the class”in Mexico becomes“Pintar venado (to paint venison), In Venezuela“Hacer la vaca “ (to make the cow), in Perú “Hacer vaquilla(to make the calf),in Argentina & Uruguay “Hacerse la rata”, in Ecuador “Echarse la pera”in Chile “Hacer la chancha (choca)”in Colombia “Capar clase”, in Spain “Hacer novillos”. The following expressions, reported by Suzanne Brock, leave me perplexed and dumbfound : “To play dumb”in Spain “Hacerse el sueco”(to play the Swede), in Bolivia one plays the Italian, a Colombian plays the English man while a Mexican  plays the duck.  Indeed, an idiom is a linguistic expression in which the total is not equal to the sum of its parts.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Idiomatic Idiosyncrasies

I’m fascinated by the eccentricities of idiomatic expressions of the various languages that I write about. As peculiar as these expressions may seem many of our English idioms are equally strange. Who would ever think that dust can be bitten, words can be minced and that kicking the bucket is lethal. Secrets are analogous to cats in bags. Guns can be jumped. I must admit that at times I struggle with them, but once I master them they give me a great joy and satisfaction. Although their origins are not always clear many reflect their home nations by offering us a unique taste of their respective cultures. Moreover they are fun to use as they elicit a giggle or two, thus lightening the mood of a conversation. While foreign expressions can be startling let’s not forget how weird our idioms are.  
 In Spain  the phrase “Tener un cocodrilo en el bolsillo” have a crocodile in the pocket refers to a stingy person. I suppose having a crocodile in the pocket wouldn’t allow you to put your hand there and look for your wallet. A dirty old man becomes “Un viejo verde”a green old man in Spanish. For English speakers “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”, while for the Spaniards “La gallina del vicino pone mas huevos que la mia”, i.e. the neighbour’s hen lays more eggs than mine.
 “To make a kill" corresponds to the Spanish “Hacer su agosto”literally  to make your August, because after the harvest farmers would sell their crops and rake in lot of money.
“Cuando las ranas críen pelos” i.e. when  the frogs  grow hair which is equivalent to “When hell freezes over.
English speakers wouldn't want to be in someone else's shoes while the Spaniards stick to skin by saying  "No quisiera estar en su pellejo", i.e.I wouldn't want to be in your skin.
We might sometimes scream when we "Hit the ceiling", while the Spaniards scream at the sky by saying "Poner el grito en el ciel". While we say : "It's neither fish nor fowl"the Spanish idiom talks about liquor made from fermented maize when they say : "No es ni chicha ni limonada"i.e.It's neither corn liquor nor lemonade). Take the English expression "There is room for one more"the  Spanish idiom is more precise and expressive "Donde comen seis, comen siete" (where six can eat, seven can eat).
:To pull one’s leg” corresponds to “Tomar el pelo”(To take someone by the hair)
While foreign expressions can be startling let’s not forget how weird our idioms are.  
How did these phrases find their way into these languages? Why do we use such strange or poetic images to convey simple concepts ?

Friday, February 17, 2012

More Eccentric Italian Idioms

Idiomatic phrases celebrate the colourful imagery of a language thus becoming a language within a language. Foreign expressions can be quite revealing as they give us some insights into the life, customs and beliefs of the people using this language.
Here are some Italians expressions that describe a Turk sitting crossed-legged on the floor, with a drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and with swear or curse words coming from his mouth: “Sedere alla Turca”(to sit like a Turk) i.e. “To sit cross-legged”; “Bere come un Turco” (to drink like a Turk) “ i.e.”To drink like a fish”; Fumare come un Turco”( to smoke like a Turk) i.e. “To smoke like a chimney”, “Bestemmiare come un  Turco” (to swear like a Turk) i.e, “To swear like a trooper.”
As mentioned  in a previous article the letter H, pronounced acca, is one of the 21 letters of the Italian alphabet. What I find strange about this letter is that the beginning h is never pronounced and that the number of Italian words starting with  h can be counted on one hand. H is mainly used together with c as in “che (what) pronounced as k, chiesa (church). No wonder the Italians say “Non vale un’acca”( it’s not worth an h)  meaning “It’s worthless (useless)!”
Here are a few popular Italian expressions involving the number 4: “Non dire quattro se non l’hai nel sacco”(don’t say four unless you have it in the bag) which is equivalent to our Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” and while we say “I gave him a piece of my mind,” the Italians would say “Gliene ho dette quattro,”(I told him four); our English phrase “To raise hell or a stink”corresponds to  “Fare il diavolo a quattro”, and while we like “To have a chat” the Italians love to “Fare quattro chiacchiere” (to have four words).
“Campa cavallo che l’erba cresce!” (live horse, as the grass will grow), this expression has a touch of irony as things won’t always go well as expressed by the corresponding English phrase “That’ll be the day!”. When somebody fails to achieve something the Italians say “Fare un buco nell’acqua” (to make a whole in the water) that is “To draw a blank.” The expression “Buona notte ai suonatori” (good night to the players)or “La festa è finita” (the party is over) are  similar to “That’s that.”
l’oca (goose) is not considered too intelligent, hence “Non fare l’oca” means “Don’t be silly”and “Oca giuliva” i.e. “Silly goose”, nowadays is actually used to mean “Dumb blonde.” “ Non fare il coniglio” (don’t behave like a rabbit, that is don’t be timid or scared) is equivalent to our “Don’t chicken out.”  /”L’ultimo ad arrivare fu Gambacorta”(the last to arrive was Shortleg) gives a better explanation of the delay than the English “Johnny come lately.”
Auguri! (Best wishes)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Nobody loves pasta like the Italians and this is also reflected in some expressions such as: "Avere le mani in pasta", (literally to have hands in the dough,) which is equivalent to "Something is in the wind." Another popular expression is: "Sono tutti della stessa pasta", (they're all of the same dough) meaning "They are all the same." I should add that the  Italians  have hundreds of names for pasta, such as: spaghetti, spaghettini, farfalle (butterflies ) but they look more like bow-ties, linguine,(little tongues), orecchiette (little ears) etc. I should add that some of the names don't sound too appetizing to foreigners, such as :capelli d"angelo (angel hair),capellini (little hairs), vermicelli (little worms), strozzapreti (priest-stranglers). Italians are also proud of their bread and use it as a standard of excellence when they say : "Buono come il pane", that is "To have a heart of gold."  If you say to an Italian that you have   20/20 vision he would stare at you as they use 10/10 vision (dieci decimi di vista.)
There is no lack of eccentricities in the Italian language, take the expression "Buona notte al secchio,"(Good night to the bucket) which corresponds to our North American phrase "We're screwed." For "gigolo" they use "cicisbeo", I love the sound of this last word (cheecheesbeo.)      If an Italian tells you "Sei una frana" (you are a landslide)he is actually saying that "You are hopeless." Here are a few short expressions that might have heard  or read: "Cocco di mamma,"(mummy's egg) for "Mummy's darling."For our "Goodness gracious!"they will say either "Mamma mia!" or "Madonna!"For the English word "Nipples"the Italians use a cozier word "Capezzolo." The Italian exclamation"Cavolo!"(cabbage) in my humble opinion is a better word than "Wow! and if you put che in front of it you get "Che cavolo?thus becoming more forceful and not as vulgar as the English "What the fuck?"
"How many of you know that "Bimbo"in Italian refers to a little boy "Bambino," while in English refers to an attractive and beautiful girl with a low IQ?      
  Smile until next time.