Monday, April 4, 2011

Word of the Week - Fiasco

I was actually going to talk about the word "fiance," and how it entered (or perhaps re-entered after British folks stopped speaking French in the middle ages) English surprisingly late, but I mis-typed, got curious, and discovered that "fiasco" is way more interesting, LOL.

So. The definition of "fiasco" is failure. It began as a theater term for an onstage flop in 1855, but since we're always looking for new ways to describe our blunders, it only took 7 years for this word to transcend the fourth wall and make it into the speech of the audience. 

Its roots, however, are mysterious. In Italian, "fiasco" means bottle. So, um . . . what does that have to do with a failure of epic proportions?? The OED makes vague references to long-forgotten theater incidents in Italy (bottle over the head, maybe?), but the compilers of found a far more likely reason in an Italian dictionary. There they found fare il fiasco, the notion of a game in which the loser is expected to buy the next bottle (of wine). So the mistake causing the loss--a costly mistake, one might say--could easily have earned the shout of "fiasco!"

Works for me. ;-)

As a side note, tomorrow is my 500th blog post, so I'm going to be cooking up a fantabulous giveaway of some sort. =) See ya then!


  1. Interesting, I've never thought about this word.

    I've asked a few here in Italy, but nobody knows this game - nor where that meaning of "fare fiasco" comes from.

    So I searched online. also mentions OED (self reference?) making nebulous reference to "alleged incidents in Italian theatrical history." On a couple of italian sites, there's indeed such an explanation.

    Have Google translate, which is the most specific:
    "This expression is associated with an actor from Bologna named Dominique (1636-1688) known as Domenico Biancolelli. He was a famous interpreter of Harlequin in the Comedy dell'Arte but..., one day Dominique invented a monologue which was about a fiasco bottle, but did not make anyone laugh. It was a failure, and so "The Fiasco" was associated with the failure of a show, then by extension became synonymous with failure."

    See, you made me think :-) Thanks for this post.