Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Understanding words!

For the last couple of days the television weatherman has been telling us about Hurricane Matthew and what havoc it has wreaked and is predicted to wreak ... in the Caribbean! Does he not realise that we are not actually in the Caribbean but in the UK?   

In fact, far from hurricanes, we have had another splendid day. A bit windy though, so maybe we are not so far from hurricanes as I thought.   

Maybe it's all in how you understand the words.   

Yesterday our Italian teacher/friend was telling us that she had "gastrite" from time to time, caused by stress of one kind or another. Did none of us have the same thing? We said that sometimes stress can give you stomach ache but she dismissed this as something much less important. So, "gastrite"? Well, of course, it's gastritis. An inflammation of the stomach lining, caused by acids in certain foods, according to Wikipedia. And I suppose stress can cause acidity and so on. However, all our explanations were dismissed. The Italians, like the French and the Spanish, clearly have ailments which the English do not have.   

I have a French friend in Spain who suffers terribly from what she calls "cervicales" (for some reason she always uses the Spanish name) and what the Italians call "cervicale". Now, to most English women "cervical" is connected to the cervix. "Cervicales" or "cervicale" refers to bits of the spine, specifically at the back of the neck. The dictionary says it is neck pain but what my French friend suffers from is a lot more than a stiff neck; in fact she has been hospitalised for it before now. I have never come across an English person suffering from it but my Italian friend knew immediately what it was: definitely more serious than a simple stiff neck!   

Do they all just know more about their anatomy than we do. We have back ache, a broad term covering all of the back. The French have "mal aux reins" - pains in the kidneys! I have only the vaguest idea about where my kidneys are located.   

Then there is the Italian "colpo d'aria" which the dictionary says is a "chill" but which looks as though it should mean a draught. It's sort of  a "blow from the air", I suppose. Basically, if you go out in a short sleeved shirt on a day like today, sunny and bright but with lots of wind, you will catch a chill, a "colpo d'aria".  My Italian friend says she always warns her husband about it but he ignores her and then three days later he gets the snuffles. I suspect he has come across germs in some other way. 

This belief in the "colpo d'aria" is probably why Spanish mothers wrap their children in large towels and make them stay covered up for at least half an hour when they get out of the swimming pool, instead of running about in the sunshine like hardy English kids on cold English beaches.    

As you might have guessed, I tend to disregard the "colpo d'aria"; we English are made of tougher stuff. My mother, though, believed that you caught cold from getting your feet wet!   

That "colpo" is a useful word. Our Italian friend asked if we had a term for the "colpo della strega"; according to her, this is the sudden sharp pain that you get sometimes in the small of your back when you bend over to pick something. We all recognised the ailment and suggested lumbago: no, lumbago is something else altogether. So, another thing we have no name for.    

I rather like the term "colpo della strega", literally a blow from the witch! Considering that they also use this term for whiplash, a magical illness that many people suffer from after minor car crashes, the name seems appropriate. We told our Italian teacher that many of us had suffered from "colpo della strega" when bending but none of us knew that there were witches involved.   

Unrelated to illness, unless falling in love is deemed to be a malady, is the term "colpo di fulmine", which the Italians use for "love at first sight", although it actually means being struck by lightning!   

Isn't language lovely?

No comments:

Post a Comment