The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Posted by Serena on Nov 27, 2008 in Culture, Grammar, Italian Language
A few days ago we came across a DVD of Sergio Leone’s famous spaghetti western movie ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, starring Clint Eastwood and featuring Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable haunting soundtrack. Its Italian title is Il Buono, il Brutto e il Cattivo, and this prompted the question from Geoff: “which is the Bad and which is the Ugly?” I replied “bad is cattivo and ugly is brutto” “so why do you use brutto for ugly and then you say: fa brutto tempo (the weather is bad)?” he persisted. “okay, mi arrendo (I surrender)! I’ll go and do a bit of research” I promised.
So, here are the results of my research, largely taken from my Vocabolario della Lingua Italiana Treccani:
Cattivo derives from the Latin “captivus” (lit. prisoner); its modern meaning has its origins in the Latin Christian expression captivus diaboli (lit. prisoner of the devil). Cattivo is the opposite of buono in almost all its various meanings. For the use of “buono” see the blog Buono o Bello? .
From its religious origin comes the main meaning of cattivo as bad in a moral sense. With this connotation it is used to describe people, animals, actions, thoughts and words: una persona cattiva (a bad person), il lupo cattivo (the Big Bad Wolf), parole cattive (words said with the intention of hurting somebody).
Cattivo is also used to describe somebody who is not good at his/her job or duty: un cattivo padre (a bad father), un cattivo insegnante (a bad teacher). In a similar vein it is used for physical and mental activities that are not functioning properly, or things that are in a bad state: cattiva digestione (poor digestion), cattiva memoria (poor memory), una strada cattiva (a bad road), un motore in cattive condizioni (an engine in a bad state).
Just like buono, cattivo is used for something that is unpleasant to the taste and the smell: cattivo sapore (bad taste), cattivo odore (bad smell).
Brutto is the direct opposite of bello (see my blog Buono o Bello?) and is used to describe an aesthetically unpleasant sensation in relationship to people, animals or objects: una persona brutta (an ugly person), un brutto naso (an ugly nose), un brutto cane (an ugly dog), un brutto vestito (an ugly dress). Because of its aesthetic judgment, brutto refers to things that are unpleasant to the senses of hearing and sight: una brutta voce (an ugly voice), una brutta musica (an unpleasant piece of music), un brutto quadro (a bad picture), un brutto film (a bad film).
There are also situations in which brutto and cattivo are interchangeable such as when talking about weather, news, manners, events and fame: fa brutto/cattivo tempo (the weather is bad), ricevere una brutta/cattiva notizia (to get bad news), brutte/cattive maniere (bad manners), fare un brutto/cattivo viaggio (to have a bad journey), avere un brutto/cattivo nome (to have a bad name).
So … to return to the title of the film ‘Il Buono, il Brutto e il Cattivo’: the literal Italian translation is: The Good, the Ugly and the Bad, and as you can see the order of the words is not the same as in the English title. This has probably been done for alliterative reasons. Il Buono, il Cattivo e il Brutto (the literal translation of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) simply doesn’t sound right in Italian. For example, when young children are very angry and want to insult someone, particularly an adult, they say “brutto cattivo!”. Trust me, it’s an aesthetic thing, cattivo before brutto sounds……well, brutto!
Finally, a quick word on male: male is the opposite of bene (see my blog Buono o Bello?). It’s an adverb, not an adjective like the brutto and cattivo, therefore it qualifies verbs, not nouns: e.g. stare male (to be unwell), comportarsi male (to behave badly), funzionare male (to not work properly).
Right, time to go and watch that film! (whistles theme tune ……. ).
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