For whom the bele tolls

I am crestfallen, nay, dismayed, to see the long-independent Mountain Xpress pander to the machinations of Asheville’s civic powers. I am referring, of course, to the travesty of truth published in the lead sentence of Hal Millard’s article, “Boom and Bust” [July 18], wherein he claims the translation of “Bele Chere”—our town’s annual three-day tourist binge—“roughly translates to ‘beautiful living.’” Hogwash and fiddle faddle! By now I assume you have received truckloads of angry mail refuting this false claim; I wish only to add a historic footnote.

That bizarre translation you published originates on the official Bele Chere Web site and in the fertile imagination of its public relations department and, until your article appeared, nowhere else. To etymologists, “chere” poses no problem whatsoever, since its Old French origins and current English derivatives are identical: dear and cherished.

It’s with the monosyllabic precursor “bele” that the problem arises. Now “bele” almost certainly is a variation of “belle” or beautiful, so Xpress published half the truth. Some have sought the real origins of “bele” in esoteric dialects (see “On the Comparative Etymology of the Yoruba Language”), while others have sifted through obscure scientific annals. For example, a paper in plant pathology reports on the natural occurrence of the chlorotic ringspot virus in aibika, orabelmoschus manihot. The Latin term is frequently shortened to “bele,” a finding greeted with great shouts of “Eureka!” by linguistic historians.

Stuff and nonsense! In fact, the origins of the term “bele chere” are straightforward and, like Asheville itself, earthy. Originally, noting the extraordinary and widespread bouts of belching that followed upon thousands of tourists eating tons of tacos, cotton candy, bangers, fries, refried beans, noodle bowls, meat skewers, sushi, and gefilte fish, this festival became popularly known as the Belcher Festival.

The demand to attend a belcher festival being minimal in the Southeast, the city of Asheville, in its wisdom, separated the word to create the Bele Chere festival, intending it to mean something along the lines of Dear Beautiful or the belle dame sans merci or something—anything—except the explosive gaseous, esophageal-based expulsions thickening the downtown air. But even our forefathers and foremothers never intended it to mean “beautiful living.”

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean.” Before Xpress continues down this loose philological path, please remember how that story ended.

— Gene Senyak

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2 thoughts on “For whom the bele tolls

  1. nuvue

    Interesting diatribe…..
    I often wondered how the name evolved

    For whatever it is worth, Bele does mean beautiful in Caribbean Patois

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