Franco-Italian language note: the plural of “rigoletto”

May 19, 2018. The car’s radio transmits a bass voice singing over diminishing-storm effects on flute. Oh yes: it’s act 4 of Rigoletto, and Sparafucile has just delivered the body bag. The jester has lost his honor but gained his revenge. Egli è là! he soliloquizes over the bag. Morto!

But what is that tenor voice in the distance? And is it singing La donna è mobile?

Oh no. And because the tenor has taken to the radio to explain about women, it’s easy for us delightedly unseeing hearers to visualize him in a comb-over.

On May 16, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had delivered the commencement address at Virginia Military Institute. Without naming any names, Mr. Tillerson suggested to the graduates that virtue may have value, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. Two months earlier, white-haired Mr. Tillerson had been publicly broken by the blonded master whose vices he faithfully served. He wasn’t the only one.

An accurately idiomatic plural of rigoletto (“funny little guy”) wouldn’t be rigoletti. It would be optimists.




Old Glory


1. In the Library of Congress’s George Grantham Bain Collection at, this.

2. I photoshop it for contrast and tonal balance.

3. I begin abstracting from the content, cropping some parts of the image that represent symbols too obvious to be interesting (iron bars, fallen leaves) and adjusting the color.

4. I crop and zoom.

And applied to an image about a hundred years old, computer technology has recovered an antique irony arising from the juxtaposition of the words “glory” and “old.” The computer has processed the image in historiographic mode. Free for the first time in a century to read the image as a text, we have placed ourselves once again under the interpretive control of Looking Backward or Maggie: A Girl of the Streets or Les Misérables. But in the interim between that moralized reading from the past and the recovered moralized reading of the present, there was a brief interim in step 3 when the picture wasn’t an allegory but only a picture.

And about that interim the immoral question has to be asked: wasn’t it beautiful?

At I write about another image of this man and this dog.