etymological twins: ‘pastiche’ – ‘pastis’

The noun pastis designates an aniseed-flavoured aperitif, while pastiche, or pasticcio, denotes a work of art that imitates the style of another artist or period and a work of art that mixes styles, materials, etc. Unlikely as it may seem, these words are doublets, or etymological twins: although they differ in form and meaning, they go back to the same etymological source—cf. also turbantulip, lobsterlocust, fawnfetus and clockcloak.

The Italian noun pasticcio (plural pasticci) denotes a pie containing a mixture of meat and pasta, and, figuratively:
– a confused affair,
– a confused or mixed work, written piece or discourse,
– an opera or other work consisting of pieces from different compositions or by different composers,
– a work of art or architecture incorporating elements taken or copied from antique or classical works.

This Italian word is from post-classical Latin pasticium, pie, pasty, from classical Latin pasta, paste, which is cognate with ancient Greek παστή (= paste), case, container.

The word pasticcio is first recorded in an English text, in the erroneous plural and singular form pastici, in The Art of Painting, and the Lives of the Painters. Done from the French of Monsieur De Piles (1706), a translation attributed to John Savage:

It remains for me to say something of those Pictures that are neither Original nor Copies, which the Italians call Pastici, from Paste, because, as the several things that Season a Pasty, are reduc’d to one Tast [sic], so Counterfeits that compose a Pastici tend only to effect one Truth. A Painter that wou’d deceive in this way, ought to have, in his Mind, the Manner and Principles of the Master, of whom he wou’d give an Idea, whether he takes any part of a Picture which that Master has made and puts it in his own Work, or whether the Invention is his own, and he imitates lightly, not only his Touches, but even his Goût of Design and Colouring.

In the original text, Abregé de la vie des Peintres, avec des reflexions sur leurs Ouvrages (1699), the French art critic and writer of art theory and painters’ biographies Roger de Piles (1635-1709) used the plural of French pastiche to render the erroneous Italian plural pastici:

Il me reste encore à dire quelque chose sur les Tableaux, qui ne sont ni Originaux, ni Copies, lesquels on appelle Pastiches, de l’Italien, Pastici, qui veut dire, Pâtez [= pastiches, from the Italian pastici, which means pâtés] : parce que de même que les choses différentes qui assaisonnent un Pâté, se réduisent à un seul Goût ; ainsi les faussetez qui composent un Pastiche, ne tendent qu’à faire une vérité.
Un Peintre qui veut tromper de cette sorte, doit avoir dans l’esprit la maniére & les principes du Maître dont il veut donner l’idée, afin d’y réduire son Ouvrage, soit qu’il y fasse entrer quelque endroit d’un Tableau que ce Maître aura déja fait, soit que l’Invention étant de lui, il imite avec légéreté, non seulement les Touches, mais encore le Goût du Dessein, & celuy du Coloris.

In English, pasticcio has been used in the various senses of the Italian word, and frequently in Italian contexts. For example, in the first of his Familiar letters from Italy, to a friend in England (1805), written from Pisa on 5th January 1787, the British dog breeder and author Peter Beckford (1740-1811) wrote:

I foresee that my Letters will be a pasticcio, a mere hotch potch, and will partake more of the extravagance of Montaigne, than of the elegance of Pliny.

And in a letter from Rome sent on 18th February 1907, the Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941) used the word to mean a mess:

I was obliged to pay both landladies, as the disappointed one came to the restaurant and made a scene. I will send A a cheque for 40 on the 28th. I am trying, since you say Trieste is off, to get a position in France. I have made a lovely pasticcio, it seems.

In the second half of the 17th century, the Italian word was borrowed into French as pastiche, which was in turn borrowed as such into English. I have found an English instance of this word which predates by twenty-six years the earliest occurrence recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition – 2005): The Morning Post (London) of Thursday 11th June 1840 published an advertisement for a collection of valuable paintings to be auctioned by one George Robins at his auction rooms, in Covent Garden; one of these paintings was “Pastiche Landscape”, by Teniers.

The post-classical Latin pasticium is also the origin of Occitan pastís, meaning pasty, pie, and, figuratively, confused affair, hotchpotch, mess. In the early 20th century, this Occitan word was borrowed into French as pastis in the same figurative sense. In the 1920s, pastis came to denote an aniseed-flavoured aperitif. This drink was apparently so named in allusion to the fact that it turns cloudy when mixed with water, that is to say, in allusion to the ‘trouble’ caused by the water poured on the liqueur.

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