Thrills and spills: are you ‘torpe’?


I have a friend who is clumsy in an endearing way. He’s Colombian and talks a lot with his hands, so anything that is in gesticulating range – the salt cellar or wine glasses at the dinner table, for example – is in immediate danger of being karate-chopped and sent flying. When accidents happened I’d good-naturedly exclaim “clumsy!” and then, one day, realising that I didn’t know the Spanish word for it, asked him what it was. The answer: torpe.

Exclaiming “torpe!” has become a running joke between us – after all, his clumsiness or torpeza is ongoing – and I have Christened him Mr Torpe, Señor Torpe.

It is a word I will never forget, and quite pleasant-sounding too – two syllables, rather like the English words “tore’ and “pay’ joined together.


A good way of learning and remembering new adjectives, then, is to give your friends appropriate nicknames in your target language, and then tease them mercilessly until the word sticks. Some other examples in Spanish.

  • Mr Grumpy – Señor Gruñón
  • Mr Fastidious – Señor Fastidioso
  • Mrs Cheerful – Señora Alegre
  • Mrs Forgetful – Señora Olvidadiza

And the one that’s most applicable to me? Príncipe Encantador (Prince Charming) haha.



So, I know Colombia’s clumsy Señor Torpe (centre) but I have only just come across his  other Romance language equivalents. Allow me to present the following, from left:

  • Senhor Desajeitado of Portugal/Brazil
  • Domnule Neîndemânatic of Romania/Moldova
  • Signor Maldestro of Italy
  • Monsieur Maladroit of France

That’s all for now.

Príncipe Encantador

Images taken from Pixabay.


Throw a canary on the barbecue? Surely not!

After my close encounters with Uma Thurman, I have had another awkward moment with my phone’s predictive text. I was using Portuguese to describe a typical Australian Christmas meal …

Nós comemos muitos camarões (“we eat lots of prawns“) was what I wanted to say.

Sydney Xmas 2017 edited (19 of 94)

Exotic prawns spotted by Bernardo at the fishmarket. Photo: Bernard O’Shea

What my phone came up with: Nós comemos muitos canaries


How would you like to munch on these? Image: Pixabay

Now that I have whetted your appetite, why don’t you join me for a seafood extravaganza?


  • French: manger (to eat), un canari (a canary), une crevette (a prawn)
  • Italian: mangiare (to eat), un canarino (a canary), un gambero, un gamberetto (a prawn)
  • Portuguese: comer (to eat),  um canário (a canary), um camarão, (a prawn)
  • Romanian: a mânca (to eat), un canar (a canary), un crevete (a prawn)
  • Spanish: comer(to eat), un canario (a canary), un camarónuna gamba (a prawn)

Note: For simplicity’s sake, I’m treating shrimps and prawns as the same. Portuguese also has the word gamba, but it may be more used in Portugal than Brazil.

It’s Mine Awareness Day; and 10 poor victims will be caught unawares


In Land of Mine, the second world war has just ended but young German prisoners are kept on to clear Denmark’s beaches of 1.4 million landmines. The fatalities were horrendous.

Today, April 4, is International Mine Awareness Day, as designated by the United Nations. I mention this for two reasons. First, there is a fantastic new film on the topic, Land of Mine (a finalist in the Oscars this year), and I was telling my friends in Romance-language speaking countries about it – the related vocabulary is further down this post. Second, the film brought back memories of my own experience in this regard – in my youth in Africa I was once on the back of a truck that detonated a landmine. Fortunately it was a reinforced vehicle and the injuries were minimal. It’s far worse if you tread on one.

Landmines may seem like a thing of the past but here are some facts that will shock you.

  • In 64 countries around the world, there are an estimated 110 million undetonated
    landmines still lodged in the ground.
  • Since 1975, landmines have killed or maimed more than one million people.
  • On average, 10 people die every day due to landmine blasts.
  • Even with training, mine disposal experts expect that for every 5000 mines cleared,
    one worker will be killed and two workers will be injured by accidental explosions.


These details came from the press kit for Land Of Mine, which has just opened in Australia. The Danish mine-clearing campaign was shocking for a number of reasons.

  • It was a violation of the 1929 Convention relating to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
  • An estimated 2600 POWS were forced to do it. Some were as young as 13.
  • Half of them were killed or injured.

So much for the grim statistics. The film is marvellous and uplifting for the way it shows how, even in the tensest of times, it is possible to break down enmities, to see a friend instead of a a foe – something that I wish political fanatics and bigots all over the world could do today. Do see the movie if you can.



How do you say “landmine” and “to explode” in my five Romance languages?

  • In French, mine terrestre; exploser
  • In Italian, mina terrestreesplodere
  • In Portuguese, mina terrestre; explodir
  • In Romanian, mină terestră or mină de uscat. (When I asked a Romanian friend he said “something like teren minat” but that’s his story.) a exploda, a detona
  • In Spanish, mina de tierra, hacer volar/estaliar/explotar

Photographs supplied courtesy of Palace Films.

Vocab: know your desafios, buracos and buracadas

Here are some news items and related vocabulary that caught my eye while reading Portuguese media this morning.

1) From BBC Brasil:

Screen shot of BBC Brasil

Screen shot from BBC Brasil website

Enfrentar means to face, to meet, confront, stand up to (there are many en- verbs in the language) and desafio (the word I wasn’t too sure of) means a challenge or contest, derived from the verb desafiar, to challenge, defy, provoke, dare, incite, spur on.

Screen shot from BBC Brasil website

Screen shot from BBC Brasil website

The story is about a chegada de barcos cheios de imigrantes pobres e desesperados (the arrival of boats full of poor and desperate immigrants). This has been a big issue in Australia for a good decade now and too often politics overshadows basic human principles. ‘Treat others the way you would like people to treat you or treat your mother’ is a good philosophy to have in life. I hope one day we will live in a world where people have nothing to fear or flee, but humanity seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

On a more cheerful and entertaining note, though, desafio is often used to mean a musical challenge. Here, for example, is a stirring routine from some contestants in um desafio de bateriasa drumming and percussion contest – in the state of Paraná in southern Brazil. They’re pretty good!

2) From Portal R7:

Screen shot from Portal R7

Screen shot from Portal R7

OMG! The sun is starting the new year with an enormous buraco a hole, gap, hollow, cavity, gully aperture, pit, loophole, etc. What’s going on? Fortunately, the sun is not caving in on itself. The story says o fenômeno ocorre quando a parte externa do astro fica com uma densidade de plasma menor que as outras regiões e, por isso, brilha menos, criando a impressão de ter um buraco (the phenomenon occurs when the density of the plasma on the external part of the star is less than in the other regions and, as a result, shines less, creating the impression of having a cavity).

Um buraco de fechadura is a keyhole (fechar means to shut), and buraco can be used figuratively to mean a disappointment, embarrassment or trouble.

In Brasil, it is also the name of a game of cards, a type of Canasta. According to Wikipedia, “the game is popular in the Arab world, specifically in the Persian Gulf; where it is known as ‘Baraziliya’ (Brazilian)“.

IMG_1209The reason this word caught my eye is that I have been playing Mahjong on my computer recently, and buracos is the name of one of the games (I have chosen Portuguese as the default language on my computer). It is in the Avançado section,  – it seems I am a pretty good player. This is what it looks like* – can you see the cavities?

There is a feminine form of the word, uma buraca, which signifies a big hole/gap, and in Brasil also means a leather sack used by mule and cattle drovers, while uma buracada means a rough, uneven track of land or a road with lots of potholes.

* Footnote

Apologies, the pic is very blurred. But after wasting a good half hour experimenting and looking at YouTube tutorials of how to take a screenshot of an app in Windows 8 (the most user-unfriendly and least intuitive version of Windows I have encountered) I gave up and just took a photo of my screen with my phone, but it had trouble focusing clearly on the image. That’s buracos for you!

May all 12 months of your new year be filled with felicity


Image from Pixabay

Image from Pixabay

Happy new year! People whose first language is a Romance one might be tempted to say “felicitous new year”, judging by the following: feliz ano novo (Portuguese), feliz año nuevo (Spanish)felice anno nuovo (Italian)an nou fericit (Romanian). The one Romance language that doesn’t make much use of felicité this time of the year, funnily enough, is French. It’s more common to wish one another une bonne année or une heureuse année instead. But “New Year” in French is masculine: Nouvel An.

calendar-31953_640January 1 seems as good a day as any to add some important vocabulary to this blog, the names of the months of the year in my five Romances. We’ve already noted how Portuguese is the odd one out when it comes to the names of the days of the week. So, has it developed a peculiarity with the names of the month as well? Slightly. It’s the only one of the five that uses capital letters for its months.

So, here is a screenshot of a table showing the months in these five Romance languages. Luckily Bernardo cleaned his screen before he took the shot, otherwise you would seen the splotches of spaghetti sauce, ice-cream and caramel topping and all the other foodstuffs that he munched on in 2014 while he was working at the computer. You already know the Portuguese word for January as that was the month that Rio de Janeiro (River of January) in Brazil was discovered. The explorers thought Guanabara Bay was the mouth of a river. And if you have been to the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires or heard of the Mothers of the Plaza Mayo you will know that mayo is May – the big square there gets its name from the revolution in May 1810 that eventually led to Argentina’s independence.

Romance months

Ways to help you remember some of this:

  • Apart from Abril, all Portuguese months end in o.
  • Apart from April, the first eight months of the year in Italian and Spanish end in o.
  • No Romanian or French month ends in o.
  • The last four months of the year end in e in all languages except Portuguese.
  • Brazilians get Fever-ish in February as carnival approaches.
  • Romanians eat brie cheese at the end of the last four months of the year.
  • Julio Iglesias was not born in julio, he was born two months later.
  • Neither Italian nor Romanian uses j for their equivalents of January, June or July.

Which language do you think is most similar to English when it comes to the months? Which one is the most different?

Say hello to your soul mates

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” Charlemagne.

pair-167267_1280Greetings, and how are your second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth souls doing today! Your Portuguese soul is uma alma and the Spanish one is una alma too; your French one is une âme; your Italian one is un’anima and they are all feminine; your Romanian soul is un suflet and it’s neuter.

Learning a second language, or a third, fourth and fifth (how far can you go?), is complicated, regardless of whether they are similar or vastly different. And whether you learn them simultaneously or one by one, you can be sure that your brain will muddle bits of one language with another. But the effort is rewarding, and for those who like to travel, being able to communicate even just a little bit with the locals in their “foreign” (to you) language just makes the travel experience so much more enjoyable. You will feel “at home” as opposed to foreign.

With some grasp of the Romance languages, you should be able to get by in much of south and south-western Europe, and in Romania and Moldova to the east; in South America and Central America; and in other parts of the world such as the former French and Portuguese colonies in Africa. And let’s not forget the French flavours of Canada.

There are other benefits too. Studies have found that learning a second language can keep your brain going as you age and helps ward off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. So whatever language you are learning, persevere. And if you are pondering learning one, get going!

To make learning and revision easier, over the next couple of months I am going to collate most of the key points covered in this blog so far and make it easier to find. Today, pages on the subject pronouns in Italian and Romanian have been added to the grammar sections, and the verb “to be” is now listed in all the five language verb pages. Use the drop-down menus on the main menu bar to get to them.



In Portuguese: dar a alma ao daibo – to sell the soul to the devil; dar vida e alma por – to do all one can (literally, to give life and soul for); do fundo da minha alma – from the bottom of my heart/soul (one would say heart in English); de alma e coração – with heart and soul (literally with soul and heart, but it sounds better in English the other way around); nenhuma alma – not a soul; alma gêmea – soul mate (literally, twin soul); pela minha alma! céus! nossa! – upon my soul!

spain-28530_640In Spanish: agradecer a alguien con toda el alma – to thank someone from the bottom of one’s heart; llevar en al alma de alguien – to love somebody deeply; parecer una alma en pena – to look like a ghost; ser el alma de la fiesta – to be the life and soul of the party; caerse el alma a los pies – to lose heart (literally, drop the soul to the feet; partir el alma a alguien – to break someone’s heart.

france-151928_640In French: vendre son âme au diable – to sell one’s soul to the devil; du fond de l’âme – from the (very) depths of one’s soul; chanter/jouer avec âme – to sing or play with soul; âme damnée – partner in crime; errer comme une âme en peine – to wander around like a lost soul or like a soul in torment; une âme soeur – a soul mate (literally, sister soul); ville sans âme – a soulless town; sans voir âme qui vive – without seeing a living soul.

flag-24134_640In Italian: l’anima della festa – the life and soul of the party; vendere l’anima al diavolo – to sell one’s soul to the devil; con tutta l’anima – with all one’s soul/heart; anima e corpo – literally, soul and body, but in English we’d say body and soul, wholeheartedly; rompere l’anima a qualcuno – to drive someone mad (literally, to break or smash the soul of someone); anima gemella -soul mate; pace all’anima sua – God rest his soul (literally, peace to his soul).

romania-28958_640In Romanian: suflet pereche – kindred spirit, soul mate (pereche means a couple or pair); a-şi trage sufletul – to pant, have a rest, take a breather; suflet amărât – poor soul, miserable soul; a-şi da sufletul – to give up the ghost, breathe one’s last; a-şi descărca sufletul – to get something off one’s chest; a-şi uşura sufletul plângând – to have a good cry (lighten the soul through crying).

Dreams and nightmares on and off the football field

This school of piranhas could well be a pesadelo. Picture:  Pixabay

This school of piranhas could well be “um pesadelo”.  Picture: Pixabay

One Portuguese word that visiting journalists learnt in Brazil was pesadelo, although Brazilians would much rather they hadn’t. When Germany thumped the World Cup hosts 7-1 in the semifinal, it was “um pesadelo“, and then when Brazil’s great footballing rivals Argentina had the cheek to qualify for the final on Brazil’s prized home turf, it was, as Brazilian newspapers claimed, a case of “o pesadelo continua” – the nightmare continues. But Germany won the final so the latter pesadelo was averted.

I must confess I wasn’t greatly familiar with this word, I guess because I rarely have bad dreams. Bernardo’s biggest nightmare is having to get out of bed in the morning. So, let’s have a look at the bedtime possibilities in my five Romance languages.

 Better dreams tabPoints of note

  1. Italian, Spanish and Portuguese are very closely related except for Italian’s “incubo
  2. The French and Romanian “nightmares” are very similar.
  3. The “mar” element, and “mare” in English, are derived from the Middle Dutch mare (“phantom, spirit, nightmare”), from Proto-Germanic marǭ (“nightmare, incubus”), from Proto-Indo-European mor– (“malicious female spirit”), according to Wiktionary.
  4. Romanian appears to be doing the “vision” thing when it comes to dreams.

justice-297629_640Going back to the Portuguese word pesadelo…

  • It’s related to the word pesar, which as a masculine noun means sorrow, regret or grief; and as a verb means to weigh, scrutinise, consider, grieve or cause sorrow.
  • The adjectives pesado/pesada (masc/fem) mean heavy, weighty, hard, onerous, laborious, difficult and so on. In Brazilian slang they can also mean unlucky. Pesado as a noun in Brazilian slang means hard work.
  • Pesadamente is the adverb heavily, and pesadume (masc) is heaviness, weight, bitterness, sorrow, ill will, grudge.

Other common expressions

  • chuva pesada = heavy rain
  • indústria pesada = heavy industry
  • uma multa pesada = a heavy fine

It’s Bernardo’s bedtime, time to say good night and sweet dreams…

bed-307817_640P: boa noite e bons sonhos
S: buenas noches y dulces sueños
F: bonne nuit et de beaux rêves
I: buona notte e sogni d’oro
R: noapte buna si vise plăcute





The G words are orgasmic

GIn English, many of the words beginning with G have a certain grubbiness. Think of all those greedy governors and governments, of gamblers, gangsters and gatecrashers. Think of the gruesome and the grotesque. Think of gonorrhea, gingivitis, gangrene, garlic breath and the grapes of wrath. Or the gods who must be crazy. But it’s not all gloom and doom. There are G-strings, G-spots, gorgeous genitals, gallant gentlemen, garrulous grannies, people who are glad to be gay, grinners who are winners, those who like a giggle, and people who are game for anything.

Incidentally, in our family when I was a kid growing up – and this was way before the internet was invented – the word “google” was a euphemism for “fart”. My mum or sister might say, “Pardon me, I just googled.” (I should stress that it was not a common habit of theirs, and usually theirs were discreet and silent, which was why they had to confess like Catholics.) Me? I wasn’t so polite. I googled with gusto and then let out a guffaw. I never apologised. What gall! So next time someone tells you, “just google it“, you know what to do! 😀

So, what gee whiz words have we found in the five Romance languages?

PORTUGUESE: gozar means to enjoy (oneself), relish, derive pleasure from. The noun is gozo (masculine) meaning joy or pleasure, and the adjective is gozoso (not to be confused with gostoso, which means tasty or delicious). So there are expressions such as gozar ferias, to be on holiday, and saltar de gozo, meaning to leap for joy. However, in Brazilian usage, gozar also means to mock, laugh at someone or to reach an orgasm, and gozo means a joke, sexual pleasure or orgasm. So when a Brazilian exclaims “vou gozar” (I am going to enjoy myself), it means he or she might be enjoying themselves a lot more than you’d normally think!

Here is a track La Vida É P’ra Gozar (Life is to enjoy, or more probably in English we’d say Life is for living) by a Portuguese band I know nothing about, Starlight, from the album Gozar A Vida (Enjoy Life).

You can listen to snippets from other songs on this album (released in 2013, by the looks of it) here.

Let’s see if we can maintain the saucy, spicy theme in other languages…

ROMANIAN: goliciune (feminine) means nudity or nakedness. It has more charm than nuditate, don’t you think? The adjective gol, or goală in the feminine form, means naked or undressed, but also empty, blank or hollow. If you want a more practical G word, though, you could go for grijă is which means care, worry or concern, and is commonly used in this expression: ai grijă de tine take care (of yourself). fără griji means carefree (literally, without cares).

ITALIAN: While Brazilians are having orgasms and Romanians are getting undressed, what are the Italians up to in this part of the alphabet? OMG you won’t believe this! una gambizzazione is a kneecapping, and gambizzare is to kneecap.

gorroSPANISH: un gorro is a quaint word meaning a cap or bonnet, gorro de cocinero is a chef’s hat, and un gorro de dormir is a nightcap (I prefer the liquid nightcaps, though). I like its use in the slang expressions estar hasta el gorro de, meaning to have had enough of, to be fed up with; and ponerle el gorro a alguien, meaning to annoy or make fun of someone. A closely related word is una gorra, which also means a cap or peaked cap. De gorra is slang meaning free, for nothing, hence entrar de gorra, meaning to gatecrash.

zip itFRENCH:  un godelureau is a dandy or popinjay. Obviously a very old-fashioned word. If you want something more modern, how about la gueule, meaning the face or mouth. Here are some useful expressions with this bon mot.

  • ferme ta gueule! or simply ta gueule! – shut up! shut your mouth!
  • être/avoir une grande gueule – to be/have a big mouth
  • avoir de la gueule – to look terrific
  • une gueule d’amour – a heart-throb
  • une gueule de bois – a hangover

You can find my listings for A-F words under the Quirky vocabulary tab near the top of the page.

And the most frequent palavas em português are…

It makes for great bedtime reading! Bernardo's Frequency Dictionary of Portuguese, propped up artistically on  his bedside table.

All findings are taken from A Frequency Dictionary of Portuguese (Routledge).

The 10 most used words in Portuguese are easy to learn. None of them is more than four letters long!

  1. o (the)
  2. de (of, from)
  3. em (in, on)
  4. e (and)
  5. que (that, than, what)
  6. ser (to be)
  7. um (a, one)
  8. por (by, through, for)
  9. para (to, in order to, for)
  10. a (to, at)

To give you some idea of what sort of words you will learn as you progress through the dictionary…

  • The 1000th ranked word is acrescentar (to add to)
  • The 2000th ranked word is sujeitar (to subject to)
  • The 3000th ranked word is polémico (controversial)
  • The 4000th ranked word is equilibrar (to balance)
  • The 5000th ranked word is sul-Americano (South American)

The most frequently used verbs are

  1. ser (to be) – overall ranking in the list: 6th
  2. ter (to have) – overall ranking in the list: 13th
  3. estar (to be) – overall ranking in the list: 18th
  4. fazer (to do, make) – overall ranking in the list: 21st
  5. poder (can, be able to) – overall ranking in the list: 22nd
  6. haver (“there is”, to have) – overall ranking in the list: 29th
  7. ir (to go) – overall ranking in the list: 30th
  8. dizer (to tell, say) – overall ranking in the list: 34th
  9. dar (to give) – overall ranking in the list: 36th
  10. ver (to see) – overall ranking in the list: 40th

Unfortunately for the learner, most of these verbs are irregular.

More fun with frequencies to come later….


The F words are not to be feared

Time now for the next instalment in my series on Quirky Vocabulary – words that I pick at random from my five Romance language dictionaries simply because they are unusual, or sound great. Words that you can have fun with. They might not always be of practical use, and you probably won’t find them in the run-of-the-mill little language guides designed to help you cope for a short stay in a particular place, but who wants to stick to the run-of-the-mill? I like words and idioms that light up the imagination and put something in a slightly different perspective than English does.

Today we are up to the letter F. Normally I start off by looking at the words in English to see if any trends emerge, but I don’t have to do it here because there is a whole blog dedicated to F words in English, The Mighty F. It’s often very funny. The link is here (but, hey, if you are going to wander off to The Mighty F, don’t forget about me, OK? Come back to The Mighty Me at some stage).

I am going to start off in Romanian today because someone else has already done the homework for me, and as far as I am concerned, it’s better when other people work and I don’t. Another blog I follow is Ra – cooking and stuff, by Raveca, a woman from Sibiu – where I did a two-week summer language course in Romanian last year – who is now living in Japan. Her blog has, among other things, “recipes from all over the world that are easy to make, tasty and anyone could try”, including of course some Romanian and Japanese specialties. For those who want to know more about the Romanian language, her blog has the cooking instructions in Romanian and English side by side. She is very deft with her hands too – check out her origami videos. The link is here.

Anyway, on to the F words…

Un tânăr frumos,or an Adonis

Un tânăr frumos, or an Adonis (Pic: Wikipedia).

ROMANIAN: In my instalment on the E words, when I began looking ahead to the F words (which have a bad reputation because of ‘that one word‘), Raveca said, never fear, Romanian has many lovely F words, such as frumuseţe and fericire. Well, trust the experts, I say. You can’t go wrong with the favourite words of a native language speaker.

Frumuseţe means beauty or splendour, and there is an expression, Ce frumuseţeWhat a beauty! … I often hear people say that whenever I walk by, haha. The related adjectives are frumos in the masculine form and frumosă in the feminine – very useful if you want to compliment a Romanian on their looks. My dictionary translates tânăr frumos into English as an Adonis (I was one of those in 1979 or thereabouts). Tânăr means a youth or young man.

Fericire means happiness, and the related adjectives fericit and fericită (feminine) are often used when you wish someone a happy something … you should know these words already from my ‘happy new year’, ‘happy Easter’ and ‘happy Christmas’ posts from the past – type “fericit” into the search field at top if you want to do some revision.. Spread the happiness.

PORTUGUESE: I picked the word frente. Not only is it practical, there was an Australian band that named themselves after this word, so its cultural significance has expanded. Frente has many meanings and uses – its dictionary entry is quite lengthy – but basically it means the front, frontal part, face, advanced guard etc, thus is useful when seeking directions. Porta da frente is the front door, banco da frente is a front seat, de trás para frente is backwards and forwards, and para frente means go ahead. In English, when someone is looking for something that is very visible, we say it’s right under your nose, in Portuguese they use ‘in front’ rather than ‘under’ – em frente ao seu nariz. I like this expression too – Saia da minha frente! Get out of my sight!

So, a short musical break from your language studies now. What did Frente! sing? They had one top 10 hit in Australia in 1992, Accidentally Kelly Street, but probably got the most airplay for their acoustic cover of New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle.

Back to Quirky Vocab.

ITALIAN: This language has a lovely word for handkerchief, (head) scarf or tissue: fazzoletto. And un fazzoletto di terra is the equivalent of a patch of land. Another word that caught my eye was frastornare, to daze, befuddle or bewilder. The adjective frastornato (or –nata in the feminine) means dazed, bewildered and also deafened, as un frastuono is a noise or din,

When your ski instructor in France commands you to "fartez", don't be alarmed.

When your ski instructor in France commands you to “fartez”, don’t be alarmed. He’s just waxing lyrical.

FRENCH: Well pardon me but when I flipped open my big Oxford Hachette French-English dictionary at a random page in the French F section, the first word that caught my eye on the page was fesser, to spank. It was not a word they taught me at school (although the Jesuits there did lots of spanking). In case you think I have a spanking fetish, let me assure you, I don’t. I was just puzzled that the word is so different from the English one. A fess in English is “a wide horizontal band across the center of a heraldic field”. In French, however, les fesses (feminine, by the way) are the buttocks or more colloquially, the bum or butt. As you can imagine, people being what they are, there are many juicy slang expressions linked to this part of the anatomy. Here is a selection from the Oxford Hachette:

  • poser les fesses – to park oneself
  • il y a de la fesse ici – there’s some sexy stuff here!
  • serrer les fesses – to be scared stiff (serrer means to grip or tighten)
  • pousse tes fesses – move over, shove over!
  • attention à tes fesses – watch your step
  • un coup de pied aux fesses – a kick up the backside
  • avoir chaud aux fesses – to have a narrow escape

Other words in the dictionary that caught my eye were farfouiller, to rummage about in, and, ahem, farter, to wax (your skis etc).

SPANISH: Well, I quite liked fastidiarse, which means to put up with or to grin and bear it, mainly because of the expressions that go with it. No fastidies! – for example – can mean You’re kidding!. And que se fastidie can be translated as that’s his tough luck, or as we sometimes say in English, he can lump it. Fastidiarse is related to the verb fastidiarto annoy, bother, sicken, disgust.

You can find my listings for A-E words under the Quirky vocabulary tab near the top of the page.