moulin

Most likely the first thing you’ll think of on seeing this word is Moulin Rouge, a Paris cabaret once a bit scandalous but now very touristy and expensive (and also the rather altered, fantasized subject of a Baz Luhrmann film). Moulin Rouge, for its part, makes my punning mind think of Hua Mulan (or Fa Mulan; the name means “magnolia”), the legendary Chinese woman warrior, who, if she had been fighting for the communists, could have been called Mulan Rouge.

For that matter, Mulan rouge might name some makeup she applied. If she applied makeup, that is – I don’t know that it would have been appropriate for Chinese warriors of 1500 years ago. I’d imagine muscles would be more in fashion (not mussels, moules, which one would order closer to the Moulin Rouge – though muscle, mussel, and moule do all have the same source). But as a woman in the army of that time and place, one wonders whether her position was not a bit Quixotic – tilting at a windmill, as it were. A windmill? Moulin-à-vent.

But never mind wind, and never mind red. How about a hole in a glacier that drains water from the top to the bottom? That would be a moulin bleu, perhaps, or replace vent with eau. While you’re mullin’ that over, consider that whatever it is, it’s called a moulin, anyway (yes, as in French for “mill” – the water’s swirling is the reason for the name), and as Greenland’s glacier cap is being run through the mill of global warming, we can wonder whether our efforts at forestalling the big melt are like tilting at windmills. The glaciers are being taken down by these new mill streams – one two-square-mile meltwater lake, 11 million gallons, drained in 84 minutes (that’s more throughput than Niagara Falls).

The word moulin looks a little like different angles on a glacial moulin: the waterfall m, the hole seen from above o, the pond before the hole bores all the way through u, the channel seen in side cutaway li, and perhaps a bit more flow n. It has such a smooth sound, nasals and liquid, it’s hard to associate it with churning, or grinding, or the roar of a massive drain. But it seems the speakers of Latin found molina as natural a name for a mill as we find mill to be – anyway, molina is the source of both moulin and mill. Molina is also a common enough surname, for various noted artists, athletes, and politicians, as well as millions of ordinary folks. I wonder if there’s a milliner named Molina who makes hats for the Moulin Rouge? Maybe a costume on a Mulan theme, made with magnolias. One would hope such an effort would not meet a chilly reception, be all wet, or go down the drain.

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