Stuffed-up or constipated?

Article published on June 1, 2005
Article published on June 1, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

When we Catalans travel to the north, we usually catch a cold due to the change in weather. This is when doubt arises: how to say in English or French what is wrong with us? If we are not sure how to express ourselves correctly, we take the risk of falling into the trap of a fun, false friend: “constipated” in English and “constipé” in French don’t mean that we have a cold, as it does back home, but that we haven’t had a bowel movement for quite a while. This rather embarrassing situation has an explanation. The word constipation comes from the Latin “constipare”, meaning “obstruction”, particularly of the respiratory system or the stomach. While in Spanish or Catalan the term has usually been used to refer to one type of obstruction, that of the respiratory system, English and French have opted for the other connotation, that of the stomach. Don’t get confused!