Paintatious – Paintaceous – Paintacious: What Was Churchill’s Word?

Paintatious – Paintaceous – Paintacious: What Was Churchill’s Word?

Paul Rafferty’s mag­nif­i­cent Win­ston Churchill: Paint­ing on the French Riv­iera is being trans­lat­ed for a French edi­tion by Dr. Antoine Capet. The author and trans­la­tor posed an inter­est­ing ques­tion. How did Win­ston Churchill spell “painta­tious”?

(Any read­er bored by pedan­tic, picayune, obscure mean­der­ings about noth­ing of impor­tance should stop read­ing now. For my review of Paul’s book see: “Book of the Year.”)

“Painta­tious” was artist Churchill’s word for a scene wor­thy of his brush. He found many such venues on the French Riv­iera, which Paul explores so well. But this is a tricky ques­tion because “painta­tioius” not a real word. It’s a “Churchillism.” (My book, Churchill by Him­self, Chap­ter 3, is full of them.) So the answer to how you spell is: Any way you like!

We thought we could estab­lish his spelling if Churchill used “painta­tious” in writ­ing. So we plumbed all his 20 pub­lished mil­lion words in the Hills­dale Col­lege dig­i­tal archive. Alas, like oth­er famous invent­ed Churchillisms, he main­ly used it in con­ver­sa­tion. Like “Admi­ralis­si­mo, Bot­tlescape, Can­tel­lopo­lus, Destrigu­late, Nam­sosed, Non-undis­in­fla­tion” and “Unsor­did,” they were main­ly in speech or con­ver­sa­tion, not in print.

Version 1: “Paintatious”

This was my choice, fol­low­ing WSC’s daugh­ter, Lady Soames. In Churchill by Him­self I list as a “pas­sim” this quote: “This is a most painta­tious place!” (41) Ref­er­ence is to Mary Soames, Clemen­tine Churchill (1979), 204 (U.S. edi­tion 268). She writes of a hol­i­day in 1921:  “…he con­tin­u­al­ly felt drawn to “painta­tious” (his own adjec­tive) places, where the sun might be expect­ed to shine bright­ly and con­tin­u­ous­ly.” She uses it again on page 407 (Eng­lish edition):

In the sum­mer of 1948, Win­ston and Clemen­tine stayed for sev­er­al weeks in Aix-en-Provence; I had mar­ried Christo­pher Soames in 1947, and we were both includ­ed in this love­ly hol­i­day. We all stayed in the Roi René Hôtel at Aix, the weath­er was per­fect, and almost every day we used to set out, equipped with a deli­cious pic­nic, to spend the day in some love­ly and “painta­tious” place.

Lady Soames con­tin­ues the use of “painta­tious” in her Win­ston Churchill: His Life as a Painter (1990). Dr. Capet thought Churchill might have spelled it thus when writ­ing to the British Con­sul in Madeira, look­ing for a suit­able hotel in 1949. Alas not: he only asked for a “paintable” location.

Version 2: “Paintaceous”

I spelled it thus sev­er­al times in old arti­cles, but only one oth­er author did: Bar­bara Leam­ing, in her superb account of his years after 1945, Churchill Defi­ant. (We rat­ed that the “Book of the Year” in 2010. Haven’t issued anoth­er such bou­quet until Rafferty’s, although there were some deserv­ing titles.)

Ms. Leam­ing wrote of WSC’s Lake Como paint­ing hol­i­day in 1945: “They drove along the lake­front while Churchill scout­ed for what he liked to call a “painta­ceous” scene.” (40) Of his sojourn in Mia­mi Beach before his “Iron Cur­tain” speech in 1946, she added: “Seat­ed beside a bed of red poin­set­tias near the pink brick sea­side house his wife had arranged to bor­row from a friend, Churchill con­tent­ed­ly scanned the coconut palms over­head in search of a ‘painta­ceous’ angle.” (60)

Version 3: “Paintacious”

We final­ly hit upon the one and only instance where Churchill actu­al­ly spelled the word in print—introducing a third vari­a­tion! It was in a let­ter to Clemen­tine from Marrakesh—yet anoth­er paint­ing holiday—on 19 Decem­ber 1950. (Mar­tin Gilbert, Nev­er Despair, page 577; The Churchill Doc­u­ments vol. 22, Leader of the Oppo­si­tion, August 1945-Sep­tem­ber 1941, page 1976. Speak­ing of paint­ing des­ti­na­tions he wrote:

Alas Tim­buk­too is 1500 miles, so it can­not be con­sid­ered. How­ev­er the British Con­sul at Casablan­ca, a young man, who met me at the air­field here and came to din­ner after­wards, says there is a far bet­ter trip the oth­er way—left-handed instead of right. When you go through the moun­tains you come to two love­ly native cities with extra­or­di­nary springs of blue water and rocky gorges, which seem by all accounts to be most painta­cious.

Madelin Evans at the Churchill Archives Cen­tre kind­ly answered our request to look at the let­ter itself (Baroness Clemen­tine Spencer-Churchill Papers 2/38). She con­firms the spelling. But this was a typed let­ter, and they were dictated—so a sec­re­tary did the spelling! Still, Churchill him­self signed the let­ter. If he didn’t approve, he would like­ly have cor­rect­ed it—as he did the odd word in typed let­ters. He did so in this one, Madelin says, but did not cor­rect “painta­cious.”

Which is Correct?

To be absolute­ly pedan­tic, WSC’s only writ­ten occur­rence, “painta­cious,” is cor­rect. But this appeared exact­ly once, so I don’t think it is dispositive.

Mary Soames’s strikes me as the most melo­di­ous ver­sion. Also with her spelling, I don’t have to mod­i­fy my entry in Churchill by Him­self.

One thought on “Paintatious – Paintaceous – Paintacious: What Was Churchill’s Word?

  1. For read­ers of this arti­cle who are inter­est­ed in the dif­fi­cul­ties of trans­lat­ing Churchillisms, may I add that the word is used three times in Paul Rafferty’s book Churchill Paint­ing on the Riv­iera, and there­fore occurs three times in the French edi­tion, Churchill peint la Côte d’Azur, which was pub­lished in Sep­tem­ber 2021. In prepar­ing the trans­la­tion, I chose “peinturesque”—an invent­ed cross between “pein­ture” (paint­ing) and “pit­toresque” (pic­turesque).

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