No Disgrace.

I was listening to a news report of some people in Mexico accidentally burning down an encampment with loss of life when the reporter said they hadn’t meant to “cause this disgrace,” and I knew immediately what had happened. Spanish desgracia, like French déception (which means ‘disappointment’), is a classic false friend: it means ‘misfortune,’ not ‘disgrace.’ Tuvo la desgracia de perder un hijo means ‘(s)he was unfortunate enough to lose a son’; han tenido una desgracia tras otra is ‘they’ve had one disaster (or ‘piece of bad luck’) after another’; desgraciado is ‘unhappy, ill-fated,’ not ‘disgraced.’ So consider this a public service message: if you find yourself having to translate Spanish on the fly, keep this fact firmly in mind; it’s fatally easy to grab the obvious cognate. (Compare the “echelon” problem in Russian, though that is of course far less likely to turn up in practice.)

Unrelated: from John Emerson’s Facebook feed, I learn that Mathematicians have finally discovered an elusive ‘einstein’ tile (Science News piece by Emily Conover). Why do I bring that here? Two reasons; the first:

Although the name “einstein” conjures up the iconic physicist, it comes from the German ein Stein, meaning “one stone,” referring to the single tile.

The second is that the tile is known as “the hat.” (Also: Come back, JE, we miss you!)


  1. Sometimes they can be more reliable friends: J.M. Coetzee’s 1999 novel “Disgrace” appeared in Spanish as “Desgracia” with some justification, given that it’s about an academic who is clumsy enough to fall into disgrace (caer en desgracia).

  2. Yes, but such situations are rare enough they can be ignored when giving general advice. (Also, I suspect whoever rendered the title into Spanish fell into the same trap in reverse; even if the title used is justifiable, I bet it wouldn’t have been chosen without the similarity of the words.)

  3. the tile is known as “the hat.”

    Aha! I see it, a kind of battered sun-hat with a floppy brim. Harpo Marx?

    I knew of Penrose tilings. I’m having a hard time understanding how a single tile shape could both fill the plane and fail to repeat. (The illustrations at the link show only small sections of tilings — since the thing has 13 sides and no symmetries, I’d expect a repeat period of at least 26.)

    Bring me cardboard, scissors, and clear the living-room floor!

  4. Time to bring up This classic episode of King of the Hill. A running gag is that Peggy Hill, a substitute Spanish teacher, understands little Spanish and speaks even less, of which she alone is unaware. The plot finally turns on Peggy defending herself in Spanish in a Mexican courtroom, packing her short speech with false friends and solecisms.

  5. how a single tile shape could …

    Aha! Because the shape is asymmetric, you can flip it to a mirror image that’s different. Now you have two shapes, like the Penrose tiling. Two behatted people facing each other. [hat tip NY Times — who have a very soothing animation if you scroll down]

    The “self-described shape hobbyist of Bridlington in East Yorkshire, England,” then hails from just along the coast to where James Cook learnt his seamanship and navigation skills (Whitby). And a treacherous coast, too, with rocks looking just as jagged as this ‘polykite’.

  6. Of course already covered in wikipedia, ages ago (in Internet time). No mention of the hattic moniker, po-faced lot.

  7. You need to read more closely! Last sentence of the “History” section:

    An einstein (German: ein Stein, one stone) is an aperiodic tiling that uses only a single shape. The first such tile was discovered in 2023, using a shape termed a “hat”.

  8. I feel like spreading the rumor that it the shape was actually named after the musicologist Alfred Einstein (a distant cousin and near-exact contemporary of the far more famous Albert). Alfred’s Short History of Music is quite good, and he doesn’t get enough recognition.

  9. Since you have to use -both- the ‘hat’ and its mirror image, seems to me to be more of an ein-and-a-half-stein tile than a true einstein tile. Still an interesting item, though.

  10. Stu Clayton says

    That would be Anderthalbstein.

    An italicized period ! You can actually see the english on it. Don’t that beat all !

  11. Now I’m imagining Neanderthalb.

  12. John Cowan says

    There must have been a good many Neanderhalbe (-en?) back in the day.

  13. David Marjanović says


    Southerly eineinhalb, more relevant to Albert.

  14. Since you have to use -both- the ‘hat’ and its mirror image, seems to me to be more of an ein-and-a-half-stein tile

    The team that brought you the Hat have gone on to produce the ‘vampire’.

    Indeed not just one, but a whole family of ‘spectres’.

    Because the shape isn’t accompanied by its reflection, you might call it a “vampire einstein,” the researchers point out.

    Ha ha!

    The ‘vampire’ looks like a kind of blobby amoeba, so of no Hattic interest. But full marks for the pun.

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