You already know how incredibly geeky I am, so perhaps you are not surprised to learn that the Online Etymology Dictionary is one of my very favorite websites. You type in a word, any word, you click a button, and it will tell you that word’s life story.
Magic, I say. Magic!
Etymologies are all kinds of awesome. I’ve already mentioned there’s a whole subset of words for which the etymology is just “Lewis Carroll sat down one day and willed it into being.” If you don’t love etymologies, I mean, I don’t even know what to tell you. You’re a well-adjusted human being, maybe?
Look. I’m rambling. The point is, I found this new etymology and oh my gosh you guys I have to tell you about it.
The word is “fiasco,” as in, “a complete and unmitigated disaster.” Apparently this word comes from the Italian phrase far fiasco, which literally means “make a bottle” (far = make, fiasco = bottle). So this word that we use to refer to catastrophes means bottle? Well, after all, “fiasco” and “flask” do look similar; turns out that’s not a coincidence. But how did something as bizarre as “make a bottle” ever come to mean “have a catastrophe”?
I’ll let the Online Etymology Dictionary take it from here:
The reason for all this is utterly obscure today, but “the usual range of fanciful theories has been advanced” [Ayto]. Weekley finds it utterly mysterious and compares Fr. ramasser un pelle “to come a cropper (in bicycling), lit. to pick up a shovel.” OED makes nebulous reference to “alleged incidents in Italian theatrical history.” Klein suggests Venetian glass-crafters tossing aside imperfect pieces to be made later into common flasks. But according to an Italian dictionary, fare il fiasco used to mean “to play a game so that the one that loses will pay the fiasco,” in other words, he will buy the next bottle (of wine). That plausibly connects the word with the notion of “a costly mistake.”
“Alleged incidents in Italian theatrical history.” Righteous.
I learned this, by the way, from Kraken, which – for all its flaws – had a metric crap-ton of interesting stuff in it.