Interesting blogs revisited: Why is an Italian bottle a theatrical disaster?

Hope it won't be a fiasco!

Triumph or  fiasco?

Our fantastic Webmaster, Les van Jaarsveldt, is busy updating and revamping the Watermill’s blog pages and he asked me to tidy up our old blogs, eliminating those we no longer need, and also expunging lots of old pictures. In the process I came across some fascinating old blogs which I thought were too good to lose and which I would like to share again with you. Like this one about fiascoes. It goes like this:

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been fascinated by words and how their meaning changes over the years and between countries. Take fiasco: in English, a fiasco means a dismal failure but in Italian un fiasco is a humble bottle or flask. So how did one become the other?

Rossini: Hope it's not a big flask, Mamma

Rossini: Hope it’s not a big flask, Mamma

Well, there are lots of theories. One suggests that Murano glassblowers, famous for their artistic creations, would only use the best materials and would set aside any glass with imperfections to make bottles. But the word seems to have come into English via the French theatre, where to faire fiasco  is to have a disastrous performance. This in turn seems to have come from the Italian stage, where far fiasco was to suffer a flop. (In his letters to his mother, Rossini used to draw flasks of various sizes, reflecting the reaction to performances of his operas.)  But why is ‘to make a bottle’ linked with theatrical catastrophe? Worldwide Words on the web suggests: “There was once at Florence a celebrated harlequin by the name of Biancolelli, whose forte was the improvisation of comic harangues on any object which he might chance to hold in his hand.

“One evening he appeared on the stage with a flask (fiasco) in his hand. But, as ill-luck would have it, he failed in extracting any “funniments” out of the bottle. At last, exasperated, he thus apostrophised the flask: “It is thy fault that I am so stupid to-night. Fuori! Get out of this!” So saying, he threw the flask behind him, and shattered it into atoms. Since then, whenever an actor or singer failed to please an audience, they used to say that it was like Biancolelli’s “fiasco.”

Blog fiasco ChiantiYet another theory suggests that the Italian phrase fare il fiasco used to mean ‘to play a game where the loser will pay for the next bottle of wine’. Or maybe it’s simply those old bottles, hand-blown and with rounded bottoms might be unstable and easily upset – and spilt wine is certainly a fiasco.

No-one knows for sure. I am attracted to the romantic story of the Florentine actor Biancolelli myself, on the grounds of a lovely Italian phrase Si non é vero é ben trovato, which, in my crude translation means “If it’s not true it jolly well ought to be.”

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