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I SEEM TO BE ON A RUN with learning new words for familiar things: “amphibology” for ambiguous phrases and, today, “pococurante” for apathetic indifference, a classical “meh.”
Word Genius describes this French loanword (pronounced “poh-koh-koo-RAHN-tee”) as coined by Voltaire, who joined the Italian words poco (little) with curante (caring). In his satiric novella Candide, or Optimism, the character Signor Pococurante is a Venetian nobleman who is surfeited with everything (sorta like the French aristocracy of Voltaire’s time).
Alas, the signor didn’t make the cut in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, one of my favorite musicals (Sunday in the Park with George is another). Learning of Pococurante, though, encouraged me to glean tidbits from a variety of sources that are anything but pococurante.
Voltaire Versus Leibniz. Voltaire’s Candide pokes fun at German mathematician/philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s concept of Theodicy, of an all-perfect Deity producing nothing but the best of all possible worlds.
Two hundred-fifty years promote Voltaire’s side in this philosophical argument with Leibnitz.
Voltaire’s Candide. Wikipedia observes, “As philosophers of Voltaire’s day contended with the problem of evil, so does Candide in this short theological novel, albeit more directly and humorously. Voltaire ridicules religion, theologians, governments, armies, philosophies, and philosophers.”
Candide is a bastard nephew of Wesphalia’s Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh. Wikipedia cites, “He is a young man of ‘the most unaffected simplicity’ (l’esprit le plus simple), whose face is ‘the true index of his mind’ (sa physionomie annonçait son âme).”
Today, we’d say he is sweet but a bit thick.
Candide’s enticement by the Baron’s daughter Cunégunde (a great name) propels the narrative, as does his relationship with Dr. Pangloss (professor of ‘metaphysico–theologo-cosmolonigology’ and self-proclaimed optimist). Many of their adventures are recorded in Bernstein’s Candide, but I turn to my bargain paperback to learn more about Signor Pococurante.
Visiting the Signor’s Villa. In Chapter 25 of the book’s 30, Candide and his road pal Martin, a Dutch amateur philosopher and Manichaean, meet the noble Signor Pococurante, “a man of sixty, and very rich” who receives “the two travellers with a polite indifference.”
This attitude continues when Pococurante describes two pretty girls who offer the travellers “hot chocolate which was frothed exceedingly well.”
“ ‘They are good enough creatures,’ said the Senator. ‘Sometimes I make them sleep with me, for I am very tired of the ladies of the town, of their coquetries, their jealousies, their quarrels, their moods, their pettiness, their pride, their stupidity, and of the sonnets which one must compose, or have composed, for them; but, on the other hand, I have really begun to tire of these two girls.”
Talk about “meh.”
Pococurante expresses similar feelings about art: “I have a great many pictures, but I do not look at them any more.” And music: “This noise may amuse one for half an hour; but if it lasts longer then it becomes tiresome to everybody, though nobody dares admit it.”
Sorta like a Wagner Ring Cycle “Let me tell you how we got into this fix” aria.
It’s the same with Pococurante’s library of classic works, even with his garden. “ ‘Oh! What a superior man!’ Candide continued in hushed tones. ‘What a genius is this Pococurante! Nothing can please him.’ ”
“So I will be the only happy man in the world,” says Candide, “when I see dear Cunégunde again.” “It is always well to hope,” says Martin. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2023
Msr Pococurante seems afflicted with terminal ennui.