In a comment about a forested scene on my other blog earlier this year, a woman from Germany wrote “das gefällt mir,” which I dutifully translated as “that pleases me.” Ge- in German is a verbal prefix, so you can see that the root of the middle word is fall-, which means the same in German as in English. And now those of you who know Spanish chime in: oh, that’s like saying “eso me cae bien.” And what fun we twenty-somethings had in Honduras a long time ago when we would “translate” the Spanish into English as “that falls well on me.” In English, an event can befall someone, and we can speak of the fallout from that event, but I’m at a loss for an example where we use fall to indicate pleasing or liking. So here’s a case where German and Spanish have similar expressions but English gets bypassed.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 09:39:05

    When I was living in Victoria and spending the bulk of my time in small rural communities south and west of there, I sometimes heard the expression “fall out”. I’ve never heard it elsewhere, and can’t find it in any of the online dictionaries with exactly the meaning it conveyed there – amusement and/or astonishment. For example: “When I heard her tell the story of that goose chasing Jacob, I just fell out.”

    I always thought it a curious expression, but simply accepted it. Now, you may have provided a clue to its derivation. Most of the people who used the expression were German, and many were raised in German-speaking homes. Like wildflowers that bloom only in Texas, we may have a German/Texas idiom.

    Things are falling into place!


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Nov 16, 2012 @ 13:59:06

      Things are indeed falling into place. I just looked in J.E. Lighter’s Historical Dictionary of American Slang and found these definitions for fall out in Black English: ‘to collapse, pass out; to be overcome, as with shock or laughter.’ That last appears to be the one you’re familiar with from Victoria. The earliest citation for that sense is from 1938. The fact that the usage is from Black English seems to preclude a German connection, but multiple influences could have been at work simultaneously.


      • shoreacres
        Nov 16, 2012 @ 15:33:34

        The addition of Black English makes it more interesting. The mix of peoples in that part of Texas always has been rich, and there were plenty of Black cowboys working with the Anglo ranchers and Vaqueros. Tales of one of the most famous Black cowboys – 80 John Wallace – still were being told when I lived there, and there were more Black wranglers and cowhands around than most people might suspect. The phrase could easily have come into the community of German ranchers from the Blacks they associated with.


  2. georgettesullins
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 09:59:52

    🙂 Eso me cae bien.


  3. Frederick Jackson
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 13:27:14

    Yes, gustarse is reflexive, but otherwise not similar, but we have a sort of a contrary (and hence homologous) expression in CAERSE GORDO (at least in Mexican Spanish) as in “Me cae gordo” HE IRRITATES ME. I am still learning Spanish, and this is a pretty strange expression to me. I hope I am reporting it correctly. He falls me (down??) fat???


  4. Frederick Jackson
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 13:36:42

    Whoops, my apologies, I did not read the post carefully. I do not recall having heard (like from my Mexican wife) “No me cae bien”. Can you add anything to the caer gordo?


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Nov 16, 2012 @ 14:31:45

      Actually these expressions aren’t normally reflexive (although someone could say, even if it’s rather strange, “Me caigo bien a mí mismo”). As infinitives, the expressions would be “gustarle a alguien” and “caerle bien a alguien.” I’ve heard “Me cae gordo,” and I’ve assumed that the “gordo” is being used as something negative rather than in its literal sense of ‘fat,’ though I don’t know that for a fact. I’m sorry that I don’t have more information about the origin of “caerle gordo a alguien.”


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