February 15, 2006

Jane Austen and the Super Bowl

As far as I know, Jane Austen was not a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, so that's not why I link her name with the 2006 Super Bowl. Instead, it's all about me me me, and specifically about my current focus on Italian, which makes sense because Rich and I are spending a month in Trento, Italy, admiring spectacular views and even getting some work done. So I am trying to reduce my brimful cup of ignorance of Italian. Mostly this effort involves things like reading all signs and notices that I run across, hurling barely intelligible Italian sentences at shopkeepers and others who (unfortunately for me) then turn out to speak quite good English, and reading, verrrry slowly and with much dictionary consultation, Rex Stout's mystery Some Buried Caesar (boringly titled La Guardia al Toro, `The Watch Over the Bull', or maybe `The Bull Guard', in Italian). But Jane Austen and the Super Bowl have provided further entertainment along the way.

First, Austen. My daughter Lucy, who always seems to find such tidbits, reports that an Italian phrase in Austen's Emma was incorrect in the original manuscript and was then corrected by editors. The phrase, uttered by the deliciously awful Mrs. Elton, is in this passage: ``I must do my caro sposo the justice to say that he need not be ashamed of his friend. Knightley is quite the gentleman.'' But apparently Austen actually wrote cara sposo, with a gender mismatch (feminine `dear', but masculine `spouse'). According to Lucy, `titanic battles are waging between the modern editors of Jane Austen who believe in following the original manuscript, and the modern editors of Jane Austen who believe in following the first edition of her novels that made her wildly popular.' The obvious question is whether Austen intended to get the phrase wrong; that would be perfectly in keeping with her portrayal of Mrs. Elton's pretentious chatter....or would erroneous Italian be too subtle for an early 19th-century audience? Maybe someone out there knows?

Now, about Italian and the Super Bowl. Although Jane Austen could not have been a Steelers fan, I am, and have been for the last thirty years or so, and for much of that time I have been fuming about the team's loss the last time they were in the big game. So I couldn't stand the thought of not seeing this year's Super Bowl, but there were obstacles, even aside from the fact that it started at 12:30 A.M. Trento time. I finally tracked down the only hotel in town that seems to have the SKY sports network; a friendly desk clerk checked her own personal SKY schedule at home to make sure they would indeed be broadcasting the game; she arranged with the bartender for me to have the run of the bar through the wee and not-so-wee hours of the morning; and so on Feb. 5 I checked into the hotel, napped, and then settled down to watch the game. The commentary was in Italian, which is what I expected, given the Italians' zeal for, and skill in, dubbing American (and other) films and TV shows and translating Rex Stout and Jane Austen and just about everyone else you've ever heard of into Italian. This was good: since I don't understand much Italian, I was unable to process the uncomplimentary comments the announcers presumably made about the Steelers when they played badly, which their offense did, for instance, for the entire first quarter of the game. But some basic phrases were easy to understand: primo e dieci `first and 10', secondo e sei `second and six', and the like. The best phrase of the entire game, though, was their comment on the disastrous interception thrown by the other team's quarterback late in the game: ``Intercetto doloroso!'', they hollered, or rather uttered urbanely. (The Steelers' quarterback, the generally terrific Big Ben Roethlisberger, threw two interceptions, not just one, but since the Steelers won -- Go Stillers!, as Pittsburghers say -- neither of those turned out to be all that doloroso.)

Posted by Sally Thomason at February 15, 2006 05:34 PM