Bienvenue, Wilkommen, Bienvenido etc. to Spanish Cow, a brand new blog full of musings and meanderings on language, translation and the universe.
We thought it might make sense to commence this cunningly linguistic web log with a brief explanation of its name. No, it’s not just part of that oh-so-clever modern trend to randomly juxtapose two words with the aim of creating something eye-catching (blue banana, horny giraffe etc.), although, let’s face it, it does sound kinda cool.
In fact, it comes from the French phrase “Parler français comme une vache espagnole”; literally, to speak French like a Spanish Cow. And slightly less literally, to speak French badly (dodgy grammar, painful pronunciation etc.). A bit like the unfortunate lady locked in a French town hall recently. But it can apply to any language, when it comes down to it – these days, you’ll also hear Francophones proudly proclaiming that they’re as adept at murdering “chinois” or “anglais” as Castilian bovines.
So why does the cow from Spain get treated with disdain, in the main? The origins of this expression – first recorded in 1640 – are as murky as a fresh cowpat, but there are two principal theories.
The first and most well-known tail, ahem, tale, blames it on the pesky Basques. The story goes that “Vache” is simply a mangling of “Basque” (“vasces” or “vasque” in 17th-century France) – back in the day, someone with poor French was instantly compared to those supposedly illiterate barbarians living across the border…
The second, not dissimilar theory states that the word started out as “basse”, which meant “servant”, and simply became “vache” over time. With many servants having moo-ved (oh God, no) from neighbouring Spain (and presumably struggling with the lingo a little), you can see how this might have come about.
Anyway, whatever the truth may be, that’s what we’re called – we look forward to chewing the cud with you in the forthcoming weeks and months. But we promise not to milk things too much.
And here endeth the cow puns.