Weekly Word Watch: delicious, Louis, and #Cuéntalo
On this week’s Word Watch, we to present you another theme for our notable and newsworthy lexemes. We’ll call it ‘(Not so) lost in translation’.
We begin with an incident of international – and translational – proportions.
Kicking off his state visit in Sydney, French President Emmanuel Macron said to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at a press conference: ‘I want to thank you for your welcome, thank you and your delicious wife for your warm welcome’.
What was Macron trying to say about Lucy Turnbull?! That she’s lovely, apparently reaching for the English delicious in lieu of his native French délicieux/délicieuse, which, in this context, intends ‘delightful’.
We can forgive Macron his slip of the tongue. For one, have you tried conducting international relations in a second language? For another, delicious and délicieux share a common root in the Latin delicia, variously used for ‘pleasure’, ‘luxury’, or ‘sweetheart’.
Delicious was first introduced into Middle English via Old French, and originally meant ‘pleasurable’ or ‘enjoyable’. Soon after, it narrowed to refer to tastes and smells that bring delight – but when not applied to those senses, it suggests something far more sensual.
The divergence in sense between the modern French delicieux and English delicious make them faux amis, or ‘false friends’. These are words in two different languages that look and sound alike, often due to a mutual etymology, but have different meanings. They abound in French and English, thanks to the history of the languages, and are seen in other pairs like actuellement/actually (French ‘currently’, English ‘in fact’) and demander/demand (French ‘ask’, English ‘insist’).
The Turnbulls had fun with Macron’s mistranslation, as we did we word nerds, missing no opportunity for a bit of wordplay:
Translational faux-ami leads to diplomatic faux-pas: Macron calls Turnbull’s wife “delicious,” false friend of the French “delicieux” (“lovely, delightful”) https://t.co/0UPfEaT1VS
— Ben Zimmer (@bgzimmer) May 2, 2018
While we’re on the subject of French and English, let’s move to the name everyone was watching this week: Louis.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, christened their third child Louis just after our last Word Watch went to publication. Betting markets favoured Arthur until last-minute speculation swung the odds to Albert, but Louis Arthur Charles prevailed as the latest royal moniker.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are delighted to announce that they have named their son Louis Arthur Charles.
The baby will be known as His Royal Highness Prince Louis of Cambridge. pic.twitter.com/4DUwsLv5JQ
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) April 27, 2018
Louis, pronounced like loo-ee, nods to one of Prince George’s middle names and honours Prince Philip’s uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Nor does it leave out Prince William himself, fully William Arthur Philip Louis.
Lost in the lineage? Well, the history of the given name Louis requires some disentangling, too.
Louis is a proud English name — the 71st most popular boy’s name in England and Wales in 2016, which we should expect to climb yet thanks to the princely appellation. It’s prouder yet in France, where it crested at #5 in 2016, and joins many a French monarch starting with Louis I, son of Charlemagne, who helped enthrone an ultimately Germanic name.
For Louis is grounded in the Germanic roots hlud (‘fame’, related to loud) and wig (‘war’, distant kin to victory), making Ludwig etymologically the same name as Louis.
Let’s travel south now on the European continent to Spain, where a recent court ruling gives us occasion to study some Spanish and highlight one latest instance of the influence of hashtags on language and culture.
Demonstrators have been staging mass protests in Pamplona, Spain after judges acquitted five men of rape charges against a women during the 2016 Running of the Bulls, sentencing them to the lesser offence of sexual abuse.
As protestors took to the streets, many women took to Twitter the hashtag #Cuéntalo, literally ‘tell it’. And what they are telling are their painful and all-too-common stories of sexual assault and violence – a powerful Spanish iteration of #MeToo and follow-up to #YoTambien (‘me too’) that has spread across Latin America and among non-Spanish speakers in expressions of solidarity.
For my friends outside Spain: 🇺🇸🇬🇧 #Cuentalo means #sayit ,it is similar to #metoo situation: women writing about any sexual #harasement #agression they had suffered so the world knows how massive this problem is. #girlpower #NomeansNo
— Ariadna Castellanos (@AriadnaCMusic) April 28, 2018
Cuenta is the imperative form of contar, ‘to count’ or ‘tell’, from the Latin computare, which gives English computer, count, and, echoing Spanish’s ‘reporting’ sense, recount. If you have ever asked for la cuenta (‘the bill’) at a Spanish restaurant, you’ve used a form of the word.
Lo is ‘it’, the third-person neutral personal pronoun added to the end of affirmative commands in Spanish grammar, yielding cuéntalo, the accent mark preserving the original stress of cuenta.
Last month, we highlighted the #PayMeToo as a derived form of #MeToo, positioning the productive hashtag as a kind of lexical marker for feminist activism. We might think of #Cuéntalo as a kind of hashtag calque – or loan translation, spreading the power of #MeToo across the globe.
But more important, #Cuéntalo is a stirring reminder that words don’t just represent concepts in the world, but that they do also very real things for us. Outside of Spanish’s own #YoTambien, #Cuéntalo joins other foreign-language #MeToos that went viral with the movement last October, including the Italian #QuellaVoltaChe (‘that time when’) and the French #BalanceTonPorc, among others.
Beware of false friends, though, for the French balance isn’t the same as the English balance. Literally ‘swing’, balancer has the effect of ‘call out’ or ‘grass up’, making #BalanceTonPorc ‘rat out your pig’. Now that’s a delicious take, one might say.