J’ai un torticolis.
zhay uh tor-tee-kuh-LEE. Click below to hear this.
I have a stiff neck.
What a strange-sounding ailment! Does it really have anything to do with necks?
After all, a tortie in English is a cat with “tortoiseshell” markings, and un colis in French is a package. A cat-tortoise-package? Is this a bad bilingual pun? A weird mutant otherwordly creature?
Actually, it’s just Latin–yes, again. The modern French word for neck is le cou, but it goes back to the Latin collum, which also means neck.
The torti- part is related to the English torsion, from all sorts of Latin words having to do with twisting. So a stiff neck is actually a twisted neck.
Interestingly, the language experts don’t even think this is a serious word. As early as 1532, the word tortycolly appeared, apparently as someone’s joke meaning neck sideways, which is how it feels and even how it looks, sometimes–holding your head crooked to make it hurt less.
So really, le torticolis is no joke at all!
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