Saturday, July 24, 2010

Put Down That Beretta and Put On This Biretta, Baretta

Mike from Cadillac called in with a comment about the word that sounds like brrr-ett-ah, namely that it seems to have three meanings: a gun, a TV character, and an ecclesiastical headpiece.

The T.V. show Baretta ran from 1975 to 1978, and it starred Robert Blake as Tony Baretta, the son of poor Italian immigrants. He was portrayed as an unconventional policeman with the uncanny ability to infiltrate gangs. I have little doubt that the name was meant to evoke images of expensive, well-made guns, even though the spelling is different.

The Beretta Holding Group is the weapons manufacturer. It is named after its 16th century founder, Bartolomeo Beretta. Because of the quality of his work, he became a major supplier to the Venetian arsenal. Fifteen generations of Berettas have kept the company and its reputation intact.

The biretta was a ceremonial square cap worn by clergymen. It may have been copied from the medieval academic hat, which evolved into today’s mortar board hat. The word came from a Late Latin word meaning a cap. The biretta is worn principally by diocesan deacons and priests. Some birettas have a tuft on top. Roughly speaking, there are three identifying color schemes: deacons and priests wear a black biretta, bishops a purple biretta, and cardinals a scarlet biretta.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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