I've used this word a lot over the past two weeks. Not in the "standing to applaud the operatic diva" way, but mentally, while I've been watching TV as the various members of Team GB (as we must call them) did their utmost to win Olympic medals.
Yesterday I watched Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin's beautiful, soft, rhythmic, forward Kur. Today when I came to drive my Fell mare Ruby, the haymaking tractors were whizzing to and fro, and I had a sudden urge to avoid the roads. A really good excuse to work in the field instead. Most of the summer (hollow laugh) it's been too wet to use it for schooling, but it was sound enough today, and Ruby does enjoy being out there on the grass. Her purpose is to reclaim it, she tells me, from Those Damned Sheep.
So we worked quietly away, with me asking her to remember to use her stiff hind leg and slow down, instead of hurtling round every right handed corner like a motorbike, with her head pointing left. Lots of little exercises, bends, circles and walk pirouettes - all interspersed with what she enjoys best, just storming along the side of the wood in extended trot!
When she got things right I told her, "Good girl," because, not being Italian, she doesn't understand, "Bravo."
In the middle of it I felt a little tickle in the brain that said, "Hang on, 'bravo' has another meaning as well, doesn't it?"
So, after the schooling, I came indoors and looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary, which I often have open in my browser. As you do.
What do you mean, you don't? Doesn't every writer in England know that access to the full OED is free if you've got a library card? And doesn't every historical novelist use its Historical Thesaurus to check what phrases and words were available to characters in their chosen period?
While the Dictionary describes the interjection as a shout of praise, "Well done!" the Historical Thesaurus also defines a noun "bravo" thus: "A daring villain, a hired soldier or assassin; ‘a man who murders for hire’ (Johnson); a reckless desperado." The dates of recorded usage stretch from 1597 to 1876.
OED quotes Ben Jonson using "bravo" in "The Silent Woman," so I hunted down the full text of "The Silent Woman." And browsing through that I found another interesting snippet:
Epicene: And have you those excellent Receits, Madam, to keep
your selves from bearing of Children?
Haughty: O yes, Morose: How should we maintain our
Youth and Beauty else? Many Births of a Woman
make her Old...
Contraception being described on stage as "excellent" back in 1616? Wow!
I think I may have a new novel brewing. It has a title. And a hero and heroine.
Well, it's a start.