Parapluie power play
Walking to the campus in the rain, it suddenly struck me that the protection I carried has a silly name. True it's like a little song, and with an etymology allm charm, from the Latin umbra,m shade: a little shade. What could be nicer than that?
Yet umbrellam makes only half sense, I thought, an anomaly. A little shade in the sun, fine, but a little shade in the rain? French is so much more rational: parapluie,m against the rain - and the French have one for (against) the sun, too: parasol.m Just like the Spanish parasol,m against the sun; and the Spanish, too, have an ''against the rain'': paraguas.m So, too, German: Regenschirm, Sonnenschirm, rainshield, sunshield. How rational the French, how logical the German, how practical the Spanish! American has sunshade, parasol, umbrellam -- one might think America was the land of no rain.
The land of sunshine is Italy, so Italians have ombrellom and arasolem which is defined as ombrello,m also the definition of parapioggia,m though anyone can see through the little shade in that to the pioggia.m It rains even in Italy, but Italians, ever optimistic as Americans, go out into the rain with an ombrello,m as if they were going out into the sun. ''Dov'e il mio ombrello?''m the Italian about to enter the downpour asks, as if he were saying, ''Non voglio un colpo di sole.''m (I don't want to have a sunstroke.)
By this time, I was at the campus and I went immediately to see the Dean, Ernest Speranza, to settle this anomaly before he retired (in two weeks). ''We need a new word for umbrella, Ernie,'' I said, and Ernie dropped the morning mail, gave me a chair, and suggested we might borrow the lovely Spanish word for rain, illuvia. ''Contralluvia,m against the rain,'' the Dean said. ''How's that?'' I Americanized those ''h'' ll'sm into ''l'' ll'sm and that ''b'' v intom a ''v'' v,m and it sounded fine. ''Of course,'' said Ernie . . . and the Dean was off.
In turn we came to ''contraguas'' and managed to derive ''contrapioggia'' from it.
This Italian sounded a little odd to our Bronx ears, however. We imagined asking at Uncle Sam's, ''Where do I find women's contrapioggias?'' and couldn't quite see it, nor contraguas. But lovely contralluvia worked. ''I'm looking for a noncollapsible contralluvia.'' ''Do you carry contralluvias in canteloupe?'' ''That contralluvia on the counter, that's the kind I want.''
By this time, I was getting close to being late for my 8:00 and there was a student pacing outside the Dean's door. But I hadn't yet found out about bumbershoot.m ''Simple,'' said the Dean. ''By retrogressive alteration and duplication, umbrm became bumbr;m no Englishman would leave mbrm without an em -- speech habit; thus bumber. Shootm is simply the phonetic shift from chute.''m Fifteen seconds left. ''We haven't looked at the Latin.'' We did and came up with contrapluve (contra,m against + pluvis,m rain). ''I like it,'' I said, grabbing my contrapluve, off to my 8:01 with a neologism, as the Dean, ever hopeful, began talking about that lyric Spanish word, the one you can see through, the limpid el parabrisas,m windshield.