Words, words, words

14/07/2011 § Leave a comment

On the walk home today, I reflected on the word ‘paparazzi’. When you stop to think about it, it’s thoroughly implausible; the lexical equivalent of a rainforest butterfly.

This is a word that only turned 50 last year. It comes from the name of a character in Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita, where Paparazzo serves is a young photographer who spends his time energetically chasing after celebrities. There’s nothing strange about naming a character after their line of work; it’s rather more unusual to name the line of work after the character. A curious inversion of the restoration comedy trope that gives you characters like Lord Brute or Sir Tunbelly Clumsey.

Not only is it strange to name the job for the man, but to do so for a black and white Italian arthouse film? A deservedly famous one, true, with the beauty and philosophy of a renaissance masterwork; but still a film that fewer than one in a hundred modern citizens will have seen. Even at the time of its release, how many people do you think sat through three hours of Italian uncertainty?

And yet… Here we are. Paparazzi pressing at the window and stalking the stars. Magazines given flesh through paparazzi snaps. Teenagers with mobile phones taking ‘paps’ of one another. A subject so naturally shabby and Anglo-Saxon; and yet, in the canopy of our language, a flash of brilliant colour.


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