Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Elephant Thoughts and Elephant Farts

When I was teaching Persian, my students, like most students, always wanted to learn the bad things first. I don't remember how we got on the subject, but one day, one of my half Iranian students was explaining the difference between gooz, fart and chos, sbd fart. That's when I mentioned chos-e-fil. Having already learned the animals, they put two and two together and assumed chos-e-fil meant elephant fart. But they were in for a surprise. I finally dropped the bomb on them that chos-e-fil is actually the Persian word for (wait for it)... popcorn. I was met with a class of horrified faces. Why on earth would you crazy Iranians call "popcorn" elephant fart? Unfortunately I had (and still have) no answer. It's just one of those things that makes Persian so colorful. At the end of the semester, I was left with this beautiful drawing from my students in honor of their favorite word they learned all semester.

Aside from popcorn, the elephant plays a role in a few Persian proverbs and idioms, too. Take the following:

1. فیلش یاد هندوستان کرده / feelesh yade hendustan kardeh/ His elephant is thinking of/remembers India. 

You see, elephants have been to India, so when someone's elephant remembers India, it means that they are nostalgic for a particular place or event. My dad is from Taleghan, an area about 2 hours north of Tehran that is comprised of about 90 villages- and I mean villages. It may be the weekend destination of big city folks now, but back in the day there weren't even paved roads. My Tehrani cousins used to call the donkeys "taxi Taleghani". I think that says it all. Many years ago, we were visiting a park in the U.S. when my dad decided to roll up his pants and stand in the river for a bit. My mom was super anxious and upset because the current was fairly strong. After my dad got out of the river, my mom just shook her head saying feelesh yade henustan kardeh, of course implying that he was nostalgic for his hometown, that his elephant remembered Taleghan.

Rumi has a poem which talks of this very proverb. I wonder whether we got the  proverb from the poem or vice versa. Regardless, here is the beginning:

There must exist an elephant, so that when
it sleeps by night, it can dream about Hindustan.
After all, the ass can't dream about Hindustan
because the ass has never been there (or never left)--
so there's need of a spirit with the power of an elephant
able to journey in sleep to Hindustan.
Desire makes the elephant remember Hindustan-
nostalgia by night gives his recollection form;

2. انگار از دماغ فیل افتاده / engar az damaghe feel oftade
Literally this means it's as if she has fallen out of the elephant's trunk. Someone who thinks highly of themselves has fallen from the elephant's trunk. The English equivalent would be as proud as a peacock. I don't know what's so special about the elephant's trunk that would make a person proud, but that's the way it is in Persian.

3. To compare two disproportionate things, Persian uses the elephant and the teacup. فیل و فنجان / feel o fenjan. I don't think this one needs explanation. 

I'm always interested in proverbs and idioms as I think they are very telling of a culture. But none of these are, perhaps, quite as interesting or as entertaining as the word chos-e-fil. I hope I haven't ruined popcorn for anyone.



  1. Hey Pontia,

    Nice read.
    About the origin of "Choss-e-fil"; I've heard that the terms comes from the name of the company "Chesterfield". Apparently, this was the brand on the popcorn packages in those days. However, I do not have a credible source for this explanation.


  2. I have heard the same thing. "Chesterfield" was the British brand of popcorn. I am still looking for a reliable source. Unfortunately, my Iranian father doesn't count :)

    1. Agreed. I've heard it from a few people, and it does make sense, but it would be nice to have a reliable source :)

  3. I love the idea of «elephant fart» too. In French, we have «pets-de-nonne» or in Québec, for the same dish «pets-de-sœur» (nun's farts). A delicious pastry.

  4. I am learning Pârsi and I love your Persian Corner! I love fessendjoun, zereshk-e poloou and Mahdyar Aghadjani! Mamnounam! Khoda hafez!

  5. Hi there.
    One of the first companies that took popcorn to the Iran, was Chesterfield.
    The Chesterfield and Chos-e-fil are the same in pronunciation.
    Maybe it's why Iranians say to popcorn, Chos-e-fil.


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