Friday, April 13, 2012

Woody's Fascinating Factoid, #6: "Fiasco" Ain't Nothing But A Bottle

In which Y'r Ob'd't S'v't tracks the progress of the word "fiasco" from its origins in the medieval, glass-blowers art to its current meaning: an utter, total, humiliating failure.

In English the word "fiasco" means an absolute, abject or utterly humiliating failure.

The financial/housing/credit meltdown in 2007-09 could be understood in such a term. The BP/Macondo well oil catastrophe of 2010 comes to mind for another example. And of course the whole Bushevik "reply" to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans is a classic of the kind. Tipping over that cruise ship recently, in plain sight of the harbor mouth would be another obvious example.

In the original Italian, 'fiasco' means "flask."

So, you might inquire, how did the Italian word for "little bottle" come to signify a complete and utter disaster?

The answer is Dr. Woody's Fascinating Factoid #6. It's like this.

It goes to the glass-blower's art, which is as delicate and fragile as the material itself.

Glass blowing is a delicate, exacting, unforgiving art, and it was practiced at somewhere approaching its highest form in Renaissance Italy. It requires dexterity, technique, experience, knowledge, patience, courage, and no small amount of luck to tease out of base silicates the intricate designs, radiant colors, and expressive shapes which skilled artisans can craft in the searing flames of their kilns.

And as happens fairly regularly in such a delicate and sensitive enterprises as glass blowing, accidents happen.

And when they did, and the other artisans in the guild witnessed this sad event, they'd holler and tease the unfortunate glassblower about it.

And the fellow whose 'bubble' burst, so to speak, to camouflage his own disappointment and the disgrace of the failed work would reply to the taunts that, in effect, the broken or failed piece was nothing important, but was only a "fiasco," a little bottle of no importance.

Apropos of nothing, really: I have a sterling "flask" in which I used once upon a time to transport whiskey when I was going out drinking on the cheap. Even cheap whiskey tastes okay when it's pouring out of a sterling silver flask, hippies... we can try it when I see you at the beach.

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