Prima Donna

By Maeve Maddox

Henry Preston writes:

Please, please, help nip this malapropism in the bud: “Pre-Madonna.” I’m not kidding, I’ve seen this twice in the past few weeks on comment boards.

prima donna [prē’mə dŏn’ə] (“pree muh don uh”) is an Italian term translated literally as “first lady.” In the music world, a prima donna is the best and most celebrated female singer in an opera company.

Maria Callas swept into New York. She arrived, as is proper for prima donnas, in triumph.

[Carmen] Melis had been a soprano prima donna at La Scala in Milan and had sung with Caruso and Titta Ruffo.

Often referred to as the greatest Italian prima donna of the last half century, Tebaldi made her debut as Elena in Boito’s Mefistofele in 1944.

Because some prime donne (plural of prime donna) felt that their talent and popularity deserved special treatment, the term came to mean “self-centered, arrogant, uncooperative person.” In this sense it is used to describe gifted or otherwise significant people who know their worth and want everyone else to kowtow to them because of it.

The Senate, meanwhile, is an institution that, by nature, furthers individualistic prima-donna-ism on both sides of the aisle.

This is namely for executives: how do you deal with prima donna employees? What is the best approach?

Steele’s A Prima Donna But We Aren’t Ready To Kick Him Off Stage

One use of “pre-Madonna” is as a play on words in connection with the pop singer Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. When it comes to out-and-out ignorance of the term, the greatest supply of examples is to be found on semi-literate blogs and comment boards, and in sports writing.

General comments:

you both sound like pree-madonna little girls? arguing over a game, im not trying to get involved in ur war, but how about growing up?

im a young egyption princess or milk maid im the greatest pree madonna in the land,

I am sick in tired reality show celebs acting like pree-Madonna.

Sports-related:

Ankela is a little pre-madonna. What an attitude problem. The worst thing of it is that he actually believes that he is far superior to his peers.

My trainer calls me a preemadonna cause i like to look good lol.

Jay cutler is a primadonna (Not like Alex Rodriguez [was] a pree madonna)

Lebron “Premadonna” James will never win a championship!!

It’s amusing that a term meaning “best female singer” has come to be applied to burly athletes.

The Italian term for “best male singer” is primo uomo [prē’mō ‘wɔːmo].

Bottom line: Unless the context has something to do with the pop music world before singer Ciccone came along, the expression is prima donna.

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12 Responses to “Prima Donna”

  • Rebecca

    I don’t think I ever saw “Pre-Madonna” in print. Now, “Prima Donna” on the other hand is a term that’s been used over and over again throughout time. Perhaps some people need a good dictionary!

  • ApK

    I never saw “pre-Madonna” either, but, as an intentional pun, it’s brilliant. I wish I’d thought of it.
    I think I’d have preferred to use not to refer to the music scene before Madonna came along, but rather to an aspiring singer who sees herself as the next Madonna.

    ApK

  • Roberta B.

    I’ve never heard it used to describe a man! So, the examples about the athletes are new to me!

  • DNA

    Pre-madonna could be a cheeky way of describing a young girl who shows promise as a future pop star: Once a ‘pre-madonna’, now a ‘prima donna’

  • thebluebird11

    Sounds like a bad case of ignorance, especially among people who may not have been exposed to enough literature (meaning reading things besides comics). However, I remember the first time I heard an expression I interpreted as “Paper View.” Since I didn’t have cable TV, I had never heard of “pay-per-view.” There have been other things I have similarly mis-heard. When my friend teased me about never having heard of pay-per-view, I put a sticky note on the TV screen. So he could view the paper, you know.

  • Cecily

    One of the things I like about this blog is the extraordinary examples of errors that it finds, many of which I’ve never encountered.

    Before Madonna? What on earth do people think that means?

  • ApK

    –Before Madonna? What on earth do people think that means?–

    Cecily, Madonna is/was a pretty revolutionary figure in pop music and pop culture, particularly for women, with regard to musical content, packaging and presentation.

    Now, I CERTAINLY CAN’T understand anyone with even a tenuous grasp of English mistaking “Prima Donna” for “pre-Madonna” in context, but on it’s own, I think it’s interesting on a few levels.

  • Cecily

    Touché.

  • John

    As I know the word, I was not interested to read and it took me some time to get in to it. It is amazing that you have made a good post out of it. Prima donna makes a cluster with these two words: bella donna and the belle of the ball. Here three languages are mingled: English, French and Italian.

  • Rod

    pre-Madonna jjajajajajajajaja
    It might be some who is about to turn into a “diva” that’s why she already behaves like that.

  • Al

    Can’t resist this. Hey! isn’t Peggy Lee and Dinah Shore – Pre Madonna?

    ….sorreeee 🙂

  • venqax

    So, wait, the male equivalent is NOT primo donald? Is that what you’re saying?

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