February 09, 2006

Bella Coola Censored

CTV news just had a story about a log cabin being used to promote British Columbia in other countries, currently at the Olympics in Turin. It's made of Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta latifolia) from Bella Coola, which is on the mainland. They don't tell people that the logs come from Bella Coola though; they tell them that they come from Vancouver Island. Why? Because in Italian bella cula means "nice ass". That seems like a pretty weak reason to lie about the origin of the wood, but in any case, as far as I can tell (Italian being a language I can read but don't speak and don't know really well) there is no such phrase in Italian. The Italian word for "buttocks" is culo, and since it is masculine, "nice ass" is "bello culo". I guess this does sound somewhat like Bella Coola, but certainly not the same.

[Addendum: 04:20 LLT. Ben Zimmer turned up this story in the print media. It gives the problematic Italian phrase as bella collo , which I think is wrong - by my lights collo means "neck" - and doesn't mention the lack of gender agreement. On the other hand, it cites evidence that Bella Coola gives Italians the giggles. Of course, this seems to show declining standards of grammar on the part of Italian speakers. You would think that no self-respecting Italian speaker would entertain the possibility that a phrase could be Italian if it would violate the gender agreement rules. I suppose we'll be hearing from William Safire about this soon.

Incidentally, according to the article, Bella Coola is "named for the original First Nations inhabitants". That is sort of true, but like many such names it isn't their own name for themselves. It is an anglicization of the Heiltsuk name for the Nuxalk, who are the native people of the Bella Coola area.]

Posted by Bill Poser at February 9, 2006 03:07 AM