Correspondence

Ethnicity as a Way of Life

Letter From Corsica

Years ago, an Hungarian friend of mine, eager to finish a novel, decided to go to Corsica to find the peace and quiet he craved. Some six months later, after he returned to Paris, I asked him if, during his stay, he had picked up any Corsican. Not much, he admitted, except for a phrase he had often heard and had found appealing for its curious sonority: "U lu brutu!"

My friend's subsequent explanations as to just what those three words meant were vague in the extreme. Apparently, brutu was one of those convenient, all purpose words people—more particularly, the young—invent to express varying degrees of enthusiasm—such as formidable in French, fabelhaft ("fabulous") in German, estupendo or Caramba! in Spanish, and everything from "wizard," "super," "terrific," and the latest, singularly weak-kneed superlative—"brilliant"— now used by the British. I was reminded of the "Que brutal!" I had heard in Mexico at a time when the bamba was first being danced—in 1946, no less!—and which was no more "brutal" in its connotations than the popular English superlative "terrific!"

The four repetitive u (as in our "you") sounds in "U lu brutu!" clearly linked it to the ancient Provençal,...

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