dimanche, juin 19, 2005

Stomach Belly Tummy

They say that English is more precise than French, but check this out.

A friend had a stomach ache, and I asked a mutual friend how she was doing.

"How is Arantxa? Does she still have mal au ventre?"

My friend looked at me askew, and corrected,

"She doesn't have mal au ventre, she has mal a l'estomac,"

"Stomach, belly, same thing," I said, with a wave of my hand.

"Tut! Tut!" she corrected in that tsk-tsk sort of way the French have, "it's not the same thing at all."

"Yes it is," I said, totally sure of myself. "If you have a stomach ache or a belly ache, there is no difference."

"No, no," she replied. "This part here is the estomac," she explained, touching right below her ribs, "where it's connected to the esophagus and leads to the small and large intestines. Your ventre refers more to your belly, where your fallopian tubes and uterus are. She would say she has mal au ventre if she had menstrual cramps, for example, but mal a l'estomac if it had something to do with digestion."

I swear she said this. I can't remember the last time someone actually mentioned their esophagus. But then again this friend has a touch of hypochondria, so she knows her shit. (Pardon the pun, really.)

It occured to me that in English, as far as I know, we do not make the distinction. Nor do we ever, as I can recall, touch right underneath our ribs to indicate digestion problems. In short, we have no clue about anatomy, or are much less fascinated by all things digestive than the French. A French person once even told me that laughing was good for the digestion. Which of course made me digest even more.

I even checked in the dictionary. "Ventre" is "stomach, tummy or belly" and "avoir mal au ventre" is "to have a stomach or tummy ache." Further down, "uterus or womb."

"Estomac" is translated exactly the same : "Stomach, tummy". "Avoir mal a l'estomac" is no different: "To have a stomach or tummy ache."

As a last resort, I called Arantxa herself.

"Okay, question," I said in Spanish, "do you have mal al estomago or mal al vientre?"

"Al estomago," she said, in a definitive way.

"So there's a difference in Spanish too?"

"Of course," she said, "you say estomago if it has to do with digestion and vientre if it's has to do with your period or things like that."

Okay. I stand corrected. We do not know where our stomachs are. We just bitch about cramps. I think we even touch the right part of our bodies for that one.

Chew on that for a while....

(Sorry, couldn't resist)

Ad infinitum

Your average French person uses these fancy Latin and Greek words to indicate different ailments and inflictions. I have only recently been able to decipher this part of office talk.

Someone recently suffered an "infarctus." From the expression on the face of the person telling me about it, and the use of the word "suffer" I figured it was serious, but I had no idea what part of the body it affected. I asked, of course, and learned that it is a "myocardial infarction" or a "coronary thrombosis". In other words, the brother done had a heart attack.

My favorite, because it seems that it is the next favorite subject to vacations, is "gastro" or "gastro enteritis." I figure this has to do with the estomac but is it a stomach flu? Or do you just have the runs? And exactly why do we talk about this so much?

Then, we have the ever popular "angine", which is a really scary sounding word for a sore throat. My dictionary informs me it is also means "tonsilitis and pharyngitis", which as far as I can tell, are scary English words for a damn sore throat.

But there is one instance in which I am less annoyed at the French scientific specificty. I remember when I learned the French word for Down Syndrome was "Trisomie 21". I was eating a cheeseburger with a French friend on our lunch break, and we saw a kid on the playground that obviously had the disorder. I explained that we called it Down Syndrome, and when he asked why, I ventured a guess that it was the guy who discovered its cause. He then told me the French called it "Trisomie 21."

Calling it Trisomie 21 couldn't be more exact or precise. With two words, you are informed and presumably reminded that:

- human chromosomes have been identified by number
- chromosomes come in pairs, and when they don't, things get funky
-when chromosome 21 has a third, extra copy, it causes a disorder that affects the shape of the skull, eyes, and nose, learning ability and muscle tone.

I prefer that to vaguely wondering who Mr. Down was.