Microfiction: I 💔 New York

New York sidewalk

Rich roast bean, the crunch of toasted bagel: I’m watching the sun slide cleanly up over the Empire State into an unforeseen blue. The breeze bristles a thousand tiny leaves of hope. My heels echo down open avenues, cool and calm, just like you. I am walking to meet you in September sunshine, through sultry spice and melting mozzarella and scotch splashing on rocks and here you are, American Boy, here you are, and “I’m busy,” you say, and walk away, treading leaves, my heart, and other trash into the sidewalk. This coffee’s cold, and bitter.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Indebted to…Italy

Terrace in Sardinia

Try this experiment: think of a word, any word, that we use regularly in English which has clear Italian origins before reading on.

Ready? It’s more than likely you’ve come up with a gastronomic term – a snap poll I took last week placed pizza, spaghetti, and cappuccino as front runners (along with ciao, which incidentally was originally a way of politely declaring ‘I am your slave’. You might want to think about that before saying it in the future.). There’s no doubt that Italian cuisine is one of the country’s most successful exports. For example, while you probably didn’t know that today is reportedly National Lasagna Day in America, there’s a good chance that you know and love the Italian dish itself, since lasagna (or lasagne in its more authentic spelling) has also well and truly earned its place on the list of Britain’s favourite dishes. Before we tuck into today’s layered lunch, however, it might be worth paying tribute for a moment to the various ways in which the Italian language has influenced English over the centuries.

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Paris in the spring?

Patisserie

Whether or not ça sent le printemps [spring is in the air], where better to head for a break than Paris, the city of light itself, to soak up the café culture with a crêpe, a croissant, and a copy of L’Equipe all sous un soleil de plomb? But if your budget won’t stretch to travelling abroad despite your craving for a café crème, there’s a aperçu [taste] of France a little closer to home – just take the Circle line.

“We’ll always have South Kensington”

According to the 2011 census, London is home to more expats from France than from any other European country apart from Ireland, and many of them can be found working, if not living, in one of the most affluent and attractive areas of the capital. Stroll down the southern end of the newly-pedestrianized Exhibition Road in South Kensington and you will pass crêperie after café after croissanterie. Chairs and tables pepper the promenade, heralding the newly arrived premières tiédeurs du printemps [first warm days of spring]. Waistcoated waiters sail through the larger well-known French boulangeries-patisseries such as Paul and Le Pain Quotidien, while nearby Bute Street is bursting with independent boucheries, bistros, and brasseries. One eatery declares proudly in a window that it’s reached the finals of the competition to serve “the best cup of coffee in Europe”, a claim that cannot really be left untested at ten o’clock on a Saturday morning.

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1001 Words: Peruvian Blues

Lake Llanganuco

The dogs have us up against an unfinished house, all bared fangs and throaty growls, until with a shout Mike throws his piece of spit-roast pig at them and we turn and flee past the alpaca having a siesta under the ATM and round the corner by the meat market where wizened women are smashing goats’ heads with cleavers in time to frantic panpipes, a rainbow of primary colours splattered with blood and bones. We dodge the naked chickens strung up like laundry, the reeking towers of animal teeth, and the small furry guinea pigs splayed open on plate after plate, a ghoulish banquet of snouts and claws. There’s barking from behind: we jump over buckets of guts, past twins playing chess and a tiny old man weeing like a garden ornament into the gutter. We fly by the boy selling oversized snails and the black-hatted girl roasting a hot glazed pig on a spit. We dart across the main square, through shrieking whistles and clashing car horns, dodging a toddler dancing in a feather headdress and – Mike yanks me back – a tuk-tuk streaking by like a meteor, spraying steady Latin beats, and then we make a final break for it up the dry, cracked hill in the thin mountain air, past the shaman at his stall, doing nothing, the flickering candles at the Madonna shrine, and a small monkey on a pole dressed in red and juggling nectarines which aren’t nectarines at all. A man sitting on a stool holding a euphonium plays a few low notes as we run by.

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Can the Académie française stop the rise of Anglicisms in French?

Paris bridge tower

 

It’s official: binge drinking is passé in France. No bad thing, you may think; but while you may now be looking forward to a summer of slow afternoons marinating in traditional Parisian café culture, you won’t be able to sip any fair trade wine, download any emails, or get any cash back – not officially, anyway.

How so? Are the French cheesed off with modern life? Well, not quite: it’s the “Anglo-Saxon” terms themselves that have been given the cold shoulder by certain linguistic authorities in favour of carefully crafted French alternatives (see the quiz below). And if you approve of this move, then here’s a toast to a very happy journée internationale de la francophonie on 20 March. But just who are these linguistic authorities, and do French speakers really listen to them?

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Poetry: Oh LEO!

Sister and brother

I have a little brother.

He’s very nearly two.

He’s always messing up my stuff –

Oh LEO! Was that you?

– but sometimes we play tickle.

Sometimes we have fun.

Sometimes he will trip me up –

Oh LEO! What’ve you done?

 

Leo breaks my make-up box.

Leo steals my shoe.

Leo eats my breakfast up.

Oh LEO! Look at you!

Leo knocks me over.

Leo pulls my hair.

Leo rips my pictures up.

Oh LEO! It’s not fair!

 

I wish I had a brother who was

More like me instead.

I’m very glad when Mummy says

Oh LEO! Time for bed!

But when it’s all gone quiet

then I know what I will do.

I’ll tiptoe to his room and say

Oh LEO! I love you.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

10 British animal idioms and expressions

Dogs in window

Think you’re the cat’s whiskers – or even the dog’s bollocks – when it comes to knowing your animal idioms in British English? You’re probably right – so the next time you’re listening to your friend rabbiting on, why not try dropping one of the following common British expressions into your conversation? You’ll soon sound like you’ve been speaking British English for donkey’s years.

1. Make a pig’s ear of something

Dictionary definition: handle something ineptly

Have you ever seen a pig’s ear? While in Britain these fatty, hairy appendages have traditionally been given to dogs as a treat, their use in international cuisine is starting to have an impact on the London restaurant scene. It’s quite possible, however, that pig’s ear was originally pig’s rear – which perhaps makes more sense.

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Let’s just “call a cat a cat”: cat idioms in foreign languages

Cat cafe cat

Just a few weeks ago Christine Lindberg explored phrases and idioms that revealed the somewhat surprising way in which the English language describes man’s best friend. But what about that equally popular household pet – the beloved, fluffy, crazy cat? (Those three adjectives are among some of the most popular in the English language to precede the word cat, according to the Oxford English Corpus.) I decided to look at how our feline friends are portrayed in expressions and sayings – but this time I wanted to compare the way that cats are depicted in the English language with the way that they appear in other languages. So using the bilingual dictionaries available in Oxford Language Dictionaries Online (Chinese, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish), I began researching whether cats are known universally for getting the cream.

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From silhouette to leotard: more everyday things named after French people (2)

France lavender

Inspired by the anniversary of the Eiffel Tower, we’re looking at more everyday things which bear the name of the French person who discovered, invented, or inspired them…

A shadow of his former self

1759: France was in the grip of a financial crisis, fighting Britain in the Seven Years’ War and running up a deficit. The country’s newly-established (and rather academic) finance minister, Étienne de Silhouette, decided to introduce tough new austerity measures. Partly inspired by his research trips to London, he proposed the English practice of subjecting the wealthy to taxes from which they had traditionally been exempted. He introduced the “subvention générale” (a tax on external signs of wealth, such as doors, windows, and servants) and ordered the rich to melt down their silverware, but unsurprisingly his proposals did not go down well and he was hounded out after just eight months in the job, retiring quietly to work on his chateau.

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