On a recent family holiday in Spain, I experienced something I’m sure is familiar to almost all parents travelling with children. The perils of a holiday diet comprising mostly croissants and ice-cream took its toll on L’s bowels. I sought solace at the local pharmacy.
My sister and I memorised sections of the phrasebook so as to avoid the cliche of the Brit abroad making the person behind the counter wait while thumbing through the pages. Despite my concern for the poor little chap, I was interested to find that the Spanish word for constipated is estreñido. It is a word that seemed, phonetically and morphologically, to capture the condition far better than our own rather squeamish offering. One reason is that (I assume) there is an etymological link between ‘estreñido’ and ‘strenuous’, and even possibly ‘strain’, so a visual image results immediately. But there is also something evocative about that central morpheme, with the tilde on the n and the resultant ‘enye’ pronunciation.
As it turns out, L was not constipated but suffering from a dairy allergy. Which is a good thing, because that wasn’t in our phrasebook.