April 24, 2013

Where did the term "paparazzi" come from?



In my last post, I shared my discovery of why electronic flash units of all sizes are variously called "flash" or "strobe". I found the answer while reading Light and Film, one of the books in the Life Library of Photography.

Then in another volume in this awesome series, I came across the story behind the word "paparazzi" as applied to voracious photojournalists. Many of us will remember this word in connection with the tragic death of Diana, the late Princess of Wales. But the term actually comes from the movies.

File:Paparazzi by David Shankbone.jpg
Celebrity Photographers at the Tribeca Film Festival by
David Shankbone
Here's the story as it appears in Photojournalism (1971):
"The questionable art of sneak photography has been carried on in modern times by a breed of Italian photojournalists known as paparazzi, who specialize in catching jet-setters off-guard. They got their name from Frederico Fellini's classic film, La Dolce Vita. One of the minor characters in the film is an irksome photographer named Paparazzo who dashes about taking pictures of people in embarrassing situations. Fellini selected the name Paparazzo because, he explained, 'It suggested a buzzing, stinging, annoying sort of insect, which was the idea I wanted to put across.' An Italian word with a similar sound, pappataci, in fact means gnat."
So now you know: Frederico Fellini gave us the word for intrusive photojournalists who will stop at nothing to get the picture.