Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The linguistic peacock-tails of love

Love might be blind, but she's rarely deaf: language and love have always been intimately entangled. Indeed, some believe that love is one of the main reasons we have language at all. Essential though the language of love is, some of it is very odd and very funny. So funny that you could die laughing, or as the French would say, that you could "bang your butt on the ground"

Madly in love Colombians, for example, say they're "swallowed like a postman's sock". In the English-speaking world, when we're besotted, we say we're head over heels - which is odd, since unless we're standing on our heads, that's the way we usually are. Similarly smitten Germans get a little more anatomically specific: they're "neck over head," or "in love until over both ears." While we sow wild oats, on the other hand, the French, perhaps thanks to their greater prowess, "strike the 400 blows". But maybe this is because they believe that "by candlelight a goat looks like a lady". This in turn is the equivalent of the Italian admonition not to choose "a jewel, or a woman, or linen, by candlelight".

There's more. While we might rekindle an old flame, Italians, less appealingly "reheat cabbage". The French obsession with goats, meanwhile, starts to look a little unhealthy: they also have the expression "a lover of a goat whose hair is combed", meaning a man who is attracted to any woman. Even without goats, the French can be unromantic: they have proverbs that translate as "love is blind, which is why it's usually preceded by touch" and "love is blind but marriage restores sight". And while English-speaking husbands experiencing marital difficulties might be under their wives' thumbs, similarly oppressed Japanese would be "under their wives' buttocks". {Read on}