Parisian interlude

We've just had a weekend in Paris, only my second visit since my early twenties. Our daughter is currently living there, and took us to see the Louvre (a tiny fraction of), the Marais, Sacre-Coeur, Montmartre, the Left Bank, and Shakespeare and Company. I didn't know the famous bookshop was still open and crammed with treasures....they had to drag me away.

The Louvre is overwhelming, of course, and would take years to explore properly. I was especially thrilled by the Victory of Samothrace poised at the top of a staircase; but even in our quick visit we saw countless wonders. I particularly wanted to check out the current exhibit of portraits and "character heads" by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. He lived from 1736 to 1783 but these sculptures seem strangely modern. The character heads show human faces--usually his own--in contorted grimaces, sharply and symmetrically carved in polished alabaster or metal, almost like line drawings, and yet very solid.

The show was strangely compelling and also gave me two wonderful new French words. The heads have been named--not by the artist himself, apparently, but by others later. The names try to describe the emotion or story of in the grimace--so, for example, Just Rescued from Drowning or Childish Weeping. Written in German originally, at the exhibit they were translated into both French and English. One head was L'homme grincheux, the grumpy man. And another was L'homme renfrogné, the vexed man.

Grincheux. Renfrogné.  I love how these words sound so marvellously just like what they mean.  My Robert and Collins gives "grumpy" as the only translation for grincheux, though the American slang "grouchy" may be an even better rendering. Is there an etymological link, or is it all down to the onomatopoeic genius of language? And was Dr Seuss inspired by the word grincheux for his character The Grinch? 

Renfrogné can also be "sullen" and "sulky", though with the satisfying snort of its repeated nasals, I think it sounds more like "vexed," as the exhibit had it; uttered forcefully, it gives an impression of great annoyance.

Perhaps I especially liked these words because they express the way a current bout of sciatica was, and is, making me feel. Grincheuse. Renfrognée. Pretty damned crabby, in fact...this reminds me that "crab" in Italian is granchio, (the ch hard like k), which, although it's not used figuratively as far as I know, sounds grumpiest of all when you say it aloud. Downright cranky.