The Scots may know how to throw a great party, but they’re not the first people you think of when someone mentions Hollywood glamor. Well, it just so happens that glamor (spelled glamour in British English like labour and honour) is a word from the old Scottish or Scots Gaelic language. How it took on its modern day meaning is the subject of a good deal of debate.

hurrell_crawfordHello Hollywood
The legend on the American side of the pond is that photographer George Hurrell, who defined the look of movie stars in the 1930’s and 40’s with his exquisite black and white photographs, had searched for a word to describe the “aura of untouchable beauty” (in the words of one historian) he saw in subjects like Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford (pictured at right), Marlene Dietrich and just about every other important film star of his era. He finally discovered “glamour,” a very old Scottish word that literally translates into “magic” or “witchery.”

Problem with that legend is: it appears that glamor was there before Hurrell. He himself once said “after somebody coined the word glamor, they (movie stars) thought that way and felt that way.” He loved to use it, however, to describe “the intangible thing that made one a star.”

A True Aura
In old Scottish, “glamour” referred to a spell that cast an aura over your eyesight, changing your view of reality. One theory says that it was the venerable Sir Walter Scott who kept the word glamour alive by using it in many of his narrative verses during the 19th century. Of course, as with all old legends, there’s a more mundane interpretation, stating that glamor is simply a derivative of “grammar,” and that its current meaning has little to do with its origins.

Wherever it came from, glamor is an idea that’s still very much alive, and still carries a bit of old Celtic mystery with it. Unlike beauty or strength, specific qualities an individual might have or not have, glamor is a kind of glow, an atmosphere that an audience can feel but not explain. One writer defined it as “something beyond beauty that people seem to want.” And the aura of glamor can be attached to travel, an unusual career or a particular lifestyle. We may not be able to define it, but we can all recognize it.

To fulfill his idea of the old Celtic word, photographer George Hurrell said his approach was to “bring out the best, conceal the worst, and leave something to the imagination.” It sounds like a perfect description of stylish living that the old Scots, and all of us modern Celts, should be glad to be associated with.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *