Friday, February 21, 2014

What's the Difference Between a Washboard and a Bar of Chocolate? by Andy B

A washboard is a tool that was used for hand washing clothes before washing machines, a bar of chocolate is something sweet that you can eat, and a six-pack is what you call six beers packaged and sold together as one item.

The remnants of last night's six-pack.
What do these three things have in common? The answer to that question is not really obvious, because it is not the words themselves that have something in common, but when used idiomatically they all describe the same phenomenon: Abs.

That probably wasn't your first conclusion, which is understandable. Not all of them are used as a metaphor to describe toned abs, at least not in the same language. First of all, a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. If you say for example, that America is a melting pot, you are not saying that it is a container in which different materials are melted and mixed instead it is your intention do describe America as a place where different peoples and cultures are mix together.

Handkerchief also is a special kind of metaphor. A "kerchief" actually is a piece of cloth tied around the head. However, when used in your "hand", these two words combine to give you "handkerchief". Now you can blow your nose.

In English it is most common to refer to defined abs as a 'six-pack'. Also known as a 'washboard stomach'. Both of these words are used in German as well: 'Waschbrettbauch' and in the absence of a proper German word, 'six-pack' as an Anglicism. However, in Spanish it is called a 'tableta de chocolate', chocolate bar. French uses the same comparison, 'abdos en tablettes de chocolat', having said that, this wouldn't work in English.

To prove my point just search 'sixpack' (English), 'Waschbrettbauch' (German), 'tableta de chocolate' (Spanish) or 'abdos en tablette de chocolat' (French). You will see that this search will present you strong abs. If you search 'chocolate bar', you'll only get pictures of actual chocolate and no abs.

It's interesting that these idioms would develop and perhaps culture plays some part in this. Usually Germans are considered as a hard-working nation whereas the French and Spanish cultures are more concerned about their standard of living and are said to have a certain expertise when it comes to savoir-vivre. Maybe this is why their languages would opt for something closely related to pleasure, such as chocolate, to describe something attractive, such as toned abs. Maybe the Germans are always thinking about work and when it comes to the English-speaking countries, the less said, the better.

Another possible reason is maybe that the use of a washboard was just more common in Germany and in the UK than in France and Spain, which could explain why people living there would be more likely to draw a comparison to washboards then elsewhere.

Andy B. is a Business Administration student, sports and language enthusiast, particularly English, French, Spanish, and German.