quid est pellicula? / by Anthony Gibbins

Today’s page defines theatrum cinematographeum as aedificium quod homines visitant ut pelliculas spectent. But what is a pellicula?

Well, first of all, the word pellicula is an example of a Diminutive. A Diminutive is a form of a Noun (or occasionally Adjective) implying smallness, either actual or imagined to convey affection, scorn or some other feeling. The word duckling is a Diminutive of duck, booklet of book, novelette of novel, Tommy of Thomas, hanky of handkerchief and rivulet of river.

The Latin poet Catullus loves a good Diminutive. In the dedication of his poetry he refers to his own work as his libellus, a Diminutive of liber book. In my favourite Catullus poem – XIII – he refers to his money pouch as his sacculus, a Diminutive of saccus. When the passer sparrow of his girlfriend dies, he refers to her eyes, swollen with tears, as turgiduli ocelli. ocellus is a Diminutive of oculus eye and turgidulus a Diminutive of turgidus swollen. How very cute(sy)!

pellicula is a Diminutive of pellis skin or hide. pellis refers primarily to the skin of an animal, and when used to refer to human skin implies that it is unkempt in condition. Skin removed from the animal’s body for human use, as a blanket or tent, can also be called a pellis. You will have heard of the pellis aurea Golden Fleece. Someone who changes form, such as a werewolf, is a versipellis, from verto I turn.

In classical Latin, the Diminutive pellicula also meant skin, but not just of an animal. pellicula could also refer to the (much finer) skin of fruit. In modern Latin the word began to be used for photographic film, and thence, as in English, pellicula began to mean movie.

Perhaps you do not know what a theatrum cinematographeum is. It is a building which people visit to watch films. Do you like to watch films?