Thursday, December 13, 2007

Word of the week: bello

This is another one I'm sure you know all about.


While perusing today's article about Italy in the New York Times, they translated an Italian man's comment on the video, using "ugly" for "brutto." It's not that easy.

Italians very, very commonly use "bello" and "brutto" ("beautiful" and "ugly," respectively) to denote qualities that are not esthetic, strictly speaking. "Un bel film" is not necessarily "a beautiful film"- we would more likely describe it as a "good" or "great film." In the same way, "una brutta giornata" is not necessarily an ugly day (nasty weather, ugly place), but more usually, a "bad" day.

What we have here is a difference (as we've seen before) in the two languages which points to a difference of mindset. The Italians conflate the notions of "beautiful" and "good." This would indicate that esthetics is of primary importance to them, and this has allowed them to be foremost (and for centuries) in everything that has to do with the sensual, with beauty, with good taste. But it also may mean that they have no clear idea of what "good" is apart from appearance. Not that The Good (in a Platonic sense) is easy for any of us. But at least in English we have the words for it.
(In the photo, a work by Giovanni Bellini. Bellissimo davvero)