Urban(e) …

My favorite Italian suffix is the superlative(!) superlative -issimo, which we saw in bisarcipoltroncionacciosissimo. I like -issimo because it is so flexible. While normally it is added to adjectives (like buon-issimo = extremely good), it is often added to other words in fun ways. For example, from d’accordo (=I agree) we get d’accordissimo (= I absolutely agree), where accordo (=agreement) is a noun. Another more amusing example is a chain of shirt stores called Camicissima (=shirt + -issimo, but with the feminine –a, because camicia (=shirt) is feminine).

I was therefore really tickled to come across the short animation film Urbanissimo, by John Hubley and Faith Elliott Hubley. I didn’t translate urbanissimo because it is actually ambiguous. As you can guess, the root is urbano, which can mean either “urban” or “urbane.” So which is it? I think it’s actually a pun, and here’s why.

If you watch the film (which I strongly encourage you to do), you’ll see that it involves a (somewhat anthropomorphized) city. That leads us to the “urban” sense of urbano. However, it turns out that the music for the film is also called “Urbanissimo” and it was composed by Benny Carter for the film before it was made. The film came out in 1966, but back in the 1950s Benny Carter had released a couple relevant albums: The Urbane Mr. Carter (1954) and Urbane Jazz (1957). Those albums obviously lead us to the “urbane” sense of urbano.

I don’t really know if urbanissimo is supposed to be Italian, since it could also be a word in Portuguese (urbaníssimo), with the same ambiguity. Interestingly, Wiktionary says that the Portuguese (and Spanish) versions of –issimo were strongly influenced by Italian. Since Brazilian music had a strong influence on American Jazz in the 1950s and 1960s and Portugal is the main language of Brazil, it’s possible that urbanissimo was meant to be Portuguese. However, since Carter (from my quick perusal of Wikipedia) doesn’t seem to have done much in the Brazilian samba or Bossa Nova styles, that seems less likely.

So take your pick: Italian or Portuguese, “Extremely urban” or “Extremely urbane” — any way you choose, it is a fun, unexpected-issimo discovery.

And a bonus track from the Urbane Janzz album, relevant if you know me in person.