1

Older Colombians remember the days when well-dressed gentlemen sauntered beneath the windows of beautiful young women, who favored them by coming to the door and permitting a beauty mark to be dabbed on their faces.

Source

What does the last part,"permitting a beauty mark to be dabbed on their faces" mean? Whose faces?

  • 1
    I think it's almost assuredly the women's faces. The ambiguity rests with who is being "permitted" to dab on the beauty mark, but that can't be answered by parsing the English – one would have to be familiar with the culture and its customs. – J.R. Jan 5 '14 at 21:19
1

Below is an example of a beauty mark.
(Supermodel Cindy Crawford is known for her signature beauty mark).

enter image description here

If this is not a Colombia's festival, I would interpret "permitting a beauty mark to be dabbed on their faces" as they (the beautiful young women) make themselves look as beautiful as possible. They don't have to literally dab a beauty mark on their faces, though it is quite likely, considering that it was fashionable back then. And if they (these beautiful young women) do, it would be a beautiful mark on their faces.

However, according to the OP's source, January 5 is the Día de Negritos (Day of the Black Ones), and January 6, is the Fiesta de los Blanquitos (Festival of the White Ones). On January 5, boys equipped with black shoe polish chase the girls and try to smear them with their blackened hands. On January 6, instead of chasing the girls with shoe polish, the boys use talcum powder and wheat flour, which turns into a gluey substance when people dump water from their balconies on the victims. So this use of "beautiful mark" is specific to Colombia's festival. And according to what I've seen on the web, it must be the boys who dab those white gluey substance on the faces of the girls.

I can't find a good picture for the Fiesta de los Blanquitos festival (which is supposed to be white), but I can find one from the Día de Negritos festival from this blog post.

enter image description here

| improve this answer | |
  • @birdman1234 - Maybe. It could also be about women setting aside customary day-to-day modesty and putting a beauty mark on their own face. Either meaning would be a valid way to parse the English in the brief passage; further context might clarify which possible meaning is the obviously-intended one. – J.R. Jan 6 '14 at 9:53
1

Knowing the context (the folk custom of Dia de Negritos) certainly helps, but it is not actually vital to understanding the sentence. What is vital is knowing what "beauty mark" means:

A small black mark penciled or glued on a woman's face or shoulders to accentuate the fairness of her skin or to conceal a blemish.

From this, we can conclude that it's the young women who are getting their skin marked — even if the dictionary hadn't specified the gender, fairness of skin is something most societies only value for females. And since they are permitting it to happen rather than doing it themselves, it's also clear that it's the gentlemen who are applying said marks.

Older Colombians remember the days when well-dressed gentlemen sauntered beneath the windows of beautiful young women, who [the young women] favored them [the gentlemen] by coming to the door and permitting a beauty mark to be dabbed on their [the young women's] faces [by the gentlemen].

| improve this answer | |
  • Downvote? Really? Why?? – Martha Feb 5 '14 at 17:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy