Re: origin of the word "Bagat"

One way to test it in theory might be to compare it to other Italian words starting with /b/ that are considered to derive from Latin words starting with /v/. I haven't given it much thought, but we might be able to come up with some.

I don't know about the bagatt = cobbler etymology - I mean I've read that bagatt means "cobbler" (in Milanese?), but I don't know how it might relate to other "bagat" words.

It seems the term "bagatino", meaning a very small coin, has a solid etymology going back to the 12th century (if I remember correctly). Obviously it has a diminutive suffix, "ino", just like the other forms of the name "bagatella" and "bagatello". But the meaning "really small" stays, and explains the more common meaning given, something trivial or a trifle. This again explains why it is applied to the lowest trump, but it does not explain the image on the card, assuming that one of these forms was the original or even intended name. The French name "bateleur" actually says what the card depicts, but in the earliest French rules the non-French term "bagat" is used (and "baga" in the Vieville poem), which might be analogous to the way it is called in the modern French game "le petit", the little one.

In other words, all of the extant Italian names we have for the card may be playing terms that have to do with the position of the card in the sequence (although not its point value) and its numerical value, rather than being descriptive of the image, like all the other cards are.

On the other hand, some dictionaries say that "bagatella" has an alternative, now obsolete, meaning, the cup and balls trick, which he is clearly doing on the earliest cards. I believe this meaning can be traced back at least as far as the beginning of the 16th century (I'll have to get my notes on this), while that of "trifle" can be traced back to the 14th century. I recall something in Muratori where a man was called a "trifler", a bagatella.

It is a complex question which I'm not sure can be resolved satisfactorily.

Re: origin of the word "Bagat"

Hello Ross,
thank you for summarizing the information about this etymology.

I should have thought it before, but one of the Italian words for “cobbler” is “ciabattino” (deriving from “ciabatta”, similar to the Spanish “zapato”). Phonetically, “ciabattino” is not so close to “bagatt”, but this could be a simpler explanation for the word meaning “cobbler”.

About the exchange between labial consonants, the only one that came to my mind is “vipistrello” for “pipistrello” (bat) which can be found in Dante (for instance).

The explanation of the card name as a gaming term seems sound indeed.

Re: origin of the word "Bagat"

Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote:I recall something in Muratori where a man was called a "trifler", a bagatella.
Here it is, from Muratori, Dissertazioni sopra le antichità italiane, t. 2 (1751), pp. 171-172 (Dissertazione XXXIII, "Dell'Origine, o sia dell'Etimologia delle voci Italiane"), referring to a text from 1398.

He favours an Arabic origin. "It is not unlikely that the Italians borrowed Bagattare, like they borrowed so many other words, from the Arabian people or from the Saracens, who at one time dominated Sicily and Calabria and trafficked a great deal through our different countries; and they called worthless things and the tricks and games of Acrobats, Bagattelle." ... &q&f=false ... ttella.jpg

Re: origin of the word "Bagat"

Thank you Ross, this passage from Muratori is lovely.
I wonder if Folengo's closing lines of his 22 trumps sonnet have been inspired by those two verses by Jacopone da Todi:

I leave to you wicked fortune
who acts like a bagattella

PS: the whole poem is on google books: ... la&f=false

Since I find it quite enjoyable, here is a rough translation:

Renouncing the World.

Listen to the new foolishness,
that came to my fantasy.

I want to be dead
because I lived badly:
I leave all worldly comforts
to take a straighter way.

This world is a swindle,
in which all men are implied:
who wins this fight
is a very valiant man.

Whoever conquers the world
makes an infamous and sad gain:
when reasoning with Christ
he will lose his merchandise.

We will see al gains
brought by everyone
before the tribunal
of the heavenly Messiah.

Renew yourself, oh creature,
because your nature is angelic;
if you do not quit this filth
you will stay in darkness forever.

I have waited many years
to refuse all worldly cheats;
every day I face more troubles
that are taking me to hell.

I want to prove that I am a man;
I want to renegade myself,
I want to carry the cross
making a great foolishness.

This foolishness is such:
I will put myself at risk (?)
among gross and foolish people,
foolish of a holy foolishness.

Christ, you know what I mean,
I greatly hate this world,
in which I have remained because
I wanted to be learned in philosophy.

I wanted to be learned in metaphysics
to understand thanks to theology
how a soul can be blessed
in all the hierarchies of God.

To understand how a Trinity
is a single God;
why it was necessary
the incarnation in Mary.

Now I think differently,
because death is close to me:
whoever can go straightly and does not
seems to have lost his memory.

Science is a divine thing
that makes true gold purer;
but many have been ruined
by the sophistications of theology.

Now listen to what I have thought:
I want to be considered a fool,
ignorant and without memory,
a very strange man.

I leave to you all syllogisms,
proves and sophisms,
the unresolvables and the aphorisms,
and subtle calculations.

I will let you shout, Socrates and Plato,
wasting your breath,
reasoning on all aspects
to prove some nonsense.

I will let you all pagan art,
that Aristotle wrote in part,
and all Platonic books,
that are mostly heresy.

A simple and pure intellect
goes up all clean;
he rises to the presence of God
without their philosophy.

I leave to you all ancient writings,
that once I loved so much,
and the books by Cicero
that played this melody to me.

“What we know is not enough
to accomplish perfect goodness:
we must adapt our habits
to the right way, customs and art”.

I leave my father and my relatives,
my friends and the people I know,
even if leaving my humanity
is a stinging dart.

I leave to you music and songs,
beautiful women and girls,
their skill and mortal arrows
and their sophistication.

You can have all fiorini,
all ducati and carlini,
nobili and genovini [all kinds of coins]
and similar things.

I leave to you wicked fortune
who acts like a bagattella:
whenever she seems most beautiful,
she slips away as an eel.

I leave in great confusion
the world and its reason,
all its false opinions
that distract us from the highest good.

I leave you speaking against me:
he did what he said,
you beast, correct yourself,
your false and shameful life.

Do say whatever you want,
a wise man does not speak,
farewell world full of errors,
I am not under your power any more.

I commend my fame
to the braying of an ass;
I will forgive for an year,
whoever did me wrong.

I have a capital
that I have used badly.
Whoever understands my raving
has a keen intellect.

I comfort those intellects
that have strange ideas,
I want them to defeat what the world says,
those are all lies.

I want to follow the gospel,
that teaches us how to rise to heaven;
I am ready to obey
to its pious doctrine.

O Lord full of sweetness!
Give me grace and fortitude,
that I may bear the hardness
of what I want to attempt.

O Lord full of piety,
and of infinite goodness!
Give me pure humility
and the last forgetfulness of the world.

Give me your clemency,
chastity and obedience,
the fortitude of enduring penitence
without any reserve.

Give me a high place in faith,
a burning fire of charity,
might I burn in its fire
without any hypocrisy.

Give me a broken and undone heart,
all melted in tears,
so that I can completely forget
all worldly things.

Make me cry for your death,
in which you had to suffer so much,
because you wanted to open for us the doors
that were closed by Adam.

Make me cry and sight
for your harsh martyrdom:
I hope I will always desire
to die in the same way.

Make my cry for my sins,
chaotically grouped together,
they have stained
my conscience.

Make me cry many tears
for the errors of all sinners;
I will always pray you Lord
to forgive their foolishness.

Make me sing a song
similar to that of your holy army;
saying three times Holy, Holy,
Holy Son of Mary.

Let me be at your feet,
even in a reckless way;
my crazy mind
desires only you.

In order to live, I want to die;
God help and comfort me;
make me constant and strong
in that day I desire.

With harsh and great religion
I want to be tested;
I want to find out
whether I am copper or brass.

I want to be deprived of everything,
to be entirely new (?);
I want to get free
of all shameful desires.

I am going to face a great battle,
a great fight, a great trouble;
Christ, might your strength help me
to be the winner.

I go and shout at the feet
of Christ “have pity of me”;
I will cry alas alas
forgive my iniquity.

I will watch over the Cross,
whose fire is burning me,
I will pray in humble voice
to make me crazy for it.

I will pray the crucifix
to rise me up to him,
might he listen with attention
to my gross words.

I will have a contemplating soul,
triumphing over the world;
I will be peaceful and happy
in the sweetest agony.

I will see if I can enter
paradise, as I hope;
enjoying the songs and the smiles
of a heavenly company.

My Lord, I want to know
and to do whatever your will is.
I do not care whether you please
to damn me or to save me.

Re: origin of the word "Bagat"

Marco -

What a wonderful poem! As with Dante and Petrarch there are many terms reminiscent of the Tarot Trumps, especially Judgment, The World and the Fool all together.

On my first trip to Italy with Brian Williams, Dr. Milano, then President of the Playing Card Society, told us that Bagato may be related to bagatteliere, which means “fight, argue, shoot” and “shoe-seller,” or to bagatte, which means a “seller of small things.” Later we heard the Cultural Director of the town of Clusone ask Brian to hand him the bachetta, indicating a “small stick or pointer” [like a wand?].

Re: origin of the word "Bagat"

Hello Mary,
"bacchetta" is current Italian for "wand" (including "bacchetta magica") and "baton" (including the conducting baton used in classical music). Personally, I doubt it is related to our Bagat.
The other meanings you mention could all possibly be related to this fuzzy word: wandering cobblers or sellers, people of little importance, gaining or stealing a small coin when they could.

I am glad you like the poem. I find particularly interesting the four verses that compare Fortune to the Bagattella:

I leave to you wicked fortune
who acts like a bagattella:
whenever she seems most beautiful,
she slips away as an eel.

They indicate that "bagattella" already meant something like "trickster" or "deceiver" at the end of the XIII Century.

I also think that the poem has some analogy with the Tarot Trumps. It mentions a few of the concepts illustrated by the trumps: I would add Death, some of the Virtues and Fortune to those that you already listed. Moreover the poem, like the trump cycle, describes the process of leaving the material world behind in order to move to the higher world of true Christianity.


Re: origin of the word "Bagat"

marco wrote:
I find particularly interesting the four verses that compare Fortune to the Bagattella:

I leave to you wicked fortune
who acts like a bagattella:
whenever she seems most beautiful,
she slips away as an eel.

They indicate that "bagattella" already meant something like "trickster" or "deceiver" at the end of the XIII Century.

One of the earliest recorded titles we have is 'bagatelle' that means both juggler (in the wider semantic sense of the period as noted in previous posts) and a trifle, small things of little value. And I think the earliest name and intent of this type of image was possibly on this sort of punning wordplay between the image on the card and the value of the card in play; and that other names for the card arose as synonyms or translations for either one of these two meanings of the original title; that basteleur for example is simply a straightforward translation of bagatelle in its sense of iugler.
end quote: ... tcount=267


Ps: I am trying to read the Paul Scordilla fragment quoted in various places (sourced from Muratori as above), am I reading it right?

Bagattare, Nugari, Tricari, . . . Cognomine vocatus el Bagatella, propter ejus cavillationes umbratiles & pueriles , vel quod illam artem noverit Bagattandi.

Bagattare, play the fool, talk nonsense; trifle; behave in evasive manner; trifle/delay/dally; cause trouble; pull/play tricks; . . . synonymous with the Bagatella, on account of its shadowy (?) and childish banter, or as one that knows the arts of the Bagattandi.

Bagattandi? = one who know the arts of the fool/trickster?

pps: Mary, re: bachetta is given as a possible etymology on the tarotpedia entry on the bateleur
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: origin of the word "Bagat"

Hello Steve,
as far as I can tell, you are interpreting Scorilla's fragment correctly.
Here is my translation of the whole Muratori passage posted by Ross:

“Bagattella. A thing of little value and importance. A trifle”. Menagio gave his sentence saying: “It is a diminutive of the Latin 'Bacca' [berry] meaning 'Pearl'”. Then he praises Salmasio, who wrote “Etimologia nelle Note a Solino”, where one can read: “We call 'baccatum monile' [necklace of 'bacca'] trifles and laughable things. Also the Latin called 'Nugas' [trifles, literally 'clouds'] all the things belonging to the world of women”. This seems to me to be pure fantasy. The Latin language only uses “margarita”, “unio”, for “pearl”. See Pliny IX,35. Only the poets, metaphorically or for metrical reasons, called them “Baccas”. It is not likely that people used and kept the word “Bacca” to mean “Pearl”. And the French word “Bague” does not derive from “Bacca”, as Menagio says. Secondly, about the term “Nugivendos” found in Plautus, Nonio writes: “Plautus means all those who sell something appropriate to women. Indeed all the things used by matrons were called 'Nugas'”. It is possible that Plautus spoke of the trinkets worn by women as things without importance; but no one can believe that the other Latins and later Italians considered jewels, pearls and precious necklaces as valueless, deriving “Bagattelle” from “pearl necklace”. If you ask me the origin of that word, I have not found anything reliable: I can only propose a conjecture. The Arabic language has a word “Bakatta”, which adapted to Italian becomes “Bagattare”. According to Gollio, it means “to hurry when speaking or walking”. In Modena they say “Abbagattare” for the Florentine “Acciabattare” [to shuffle?]. The Arabs have one more similar verb, that is “Bagata”, with a single T. It means “to mix food, to confound business or speech”. It is not unlikely that the Italians borrowed “Bagattare”, as they did for many other words, from the Arabs or Saracens, who once ruled on Sicily and Calabria and had much commerce throughout our country. [So the Italians] called trifles and the tricks and games of jugglers “Bagattelle”. Paolo Scordilla wrote “the Lives of the Archbishops of Ravenna” in 1398 ca. At Par.I, Book II, pg. 214 (Rerum Italicarum Scriptores) he writes: “the sower of such discord was Servideus, formerly cantor in that church, known by the nickname 'el Bagatella', on account of his shadowy and childish banter, or as one who knows the art of 'bagattare'”. In 1298 ca, brother Jacopone da Todi, wrote in his Satire I:

"I leave to you wicked fortune
who acts like a Bagattella."

I cannot find anything better.

Re: origin of the word "Bagat"

Fantastic Marco, thank you (yet again!).

I was a little bit puzzled when I was translating 'shadowy until it clicked it (probably) means 'shady and childish banter' which is more how we would say it in english (where by shady we mean figuratively risque, dubious, full of double or hidden meaning, dishonest, misleading, shiesty.)
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

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