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.
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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).