I post this because of a chance remark made by a commenter on this thread at the Language Log, responding to a comment of mine:
Prettiness is not a degree of beauty. It is a distinct quality, one that few know how to possess, and few to recognize. Prettiness is beautiful, as innocence is beautiful, courage is beautiful, but it is not beauty.. The beauty of a beautiful woman is debilitating. It produces in the normal man the same effect that any apparently impossible challenge will. A sinking of the heart. A surrender. It can only inspire great men to great things. Beauty has caused men to create music and poetry in imitation or homage, it has caused countless acts of bravado, some epic, some heroic, many destructive, it has filled minds to the exclusion of all else, it has ruined characters, emptied pockets and ended lives but it has never caused love. Prettiness alone speaks to the heart, and our humanity responds to it alone. Prettiness alone, the prettiness of the girl in the bar, can make an ordinary man want to go out and conquer Persia. It is not consciouness of beauty that makes us human, but of prettiness. Without it there could be no human love. It is what we are meant to see in our children. It is not the reasoned sacrifice of one soul for another in the name of God, nor the unthinking protection of an animal for its young. We need more than instinct, which we think we can control, and less than the love of God, which we cannot attain. So we have prettiness which can inspire anyone to anything.
Spanish has no word for 'prettiness' as I have described it, and it is likely that few languages do, which means it is not a concept universally understood, but even so I am prepared to defend my interpretation.
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