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Lessons for topic Expressions

Finding no Fault with Grinza and Piega

 

Learning expressions by hearing them, repeating them, and figuring out, little by little, the right context to use them in is a great way to learn. But sometimes it’s fun to see where these expressions come from and a visual image can help us remember them. Let's talk about wrinkles.

 

Somebody has a plan, or an explanation for something. How do we say that it “holds water,” it’s “faultless,” it “makes perfect sense,” "there's no argument?"

 

But let's start off with the premise that Italians are very concerned with clothes, and figura (impression  — how they are viewed by the outside world) and most people know that Italy is an important fashion center. Many Italian kids learn early on that getting their t-shirts dirty will make mamma unhappy, so they try to keep their clothes clean. Not only puliti (clean) but stirati (ironed). So it makes a certain amount of sense that some expressions use ironing metaphors!

 

In an episode of La Ladra, Eva has an elaborate plan all worked out, which she describes to her girlfriends.

Here’s Gina’s response.

 

Non fa una grinza.

It's flawless.

Captions 45-47, La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 5

 

Gina’s comment non fa una grinza literally means, “it doesn’t make a wrinkle.” She could have said non fa una piega, which is also very common, if not more common, and means the same thing. So the expression means, “it’s clean, it has no blemishes, it’s smooth — no bumps, no wrinkles. It’s perfect.”

 

If you have been following Commissario Manara, you might have noticed the following exchange between Manara and his chief’s wife, who was on the Miss Maremma jury. There’s a contradiction between how she voted and who she really thought should win. Here is the conversation.

 

È evidente che avrebbe dovuto vincere Fabiola Alfieri.

It's clear that Fabiola Alfieri should have won.

-Allora perché non ha votato per lei?

-So why didn't you vote for her?

Perché il direttore di un giornale può essere molto utile alla carriera di un marito come il mio.

Because the director of a newspaper can be very useful to the career of a husband like mine.

-Non fa una piega, però non mi convince.

-That makes perfect sense, but it doesn't convince me.

E va bene. Quella Fabiola è di una strafottenza mai vista. Ma chi si crede di essere?

And all right. That Fabiola is unbelievably arrogant. But who does she think she is?

Captions 34-40, Il Commissario Manara 2 - Ep. 4 - Miss Maremma - Part 4  

 

So in this expression, regardless of whether grinza or piega is used, the verb is fare (to do/to make). It generally  refers to a statement, a reason, an explanation, or a motive, so, di conseguenza (consequently), it’s usually in the third person singular.

 

It’s a handy expression when all the evidence points to one answer or reasoning you can’t find fault with (even though you wish you could).

Una grinza (a crease, a wrinkle) is the noun form, and its verb form is raggrinzare (to wrinkle) or raggrinzire (to wrinkle).

Piegare means “to fold,” “to bend,” so the noun una piega is “a fold” or “a crease.”

In the negative sense una piega is something that shouldn’t be there, like a crease caused by careless ironing.

The noun form piega is used in another common expression. It is almost always negative, it goes together with brutto (bad/ugly), and usually refers to some kind of situation. In this case, the meaning of piega is closer to “bend,” than to “fold” or “crease.”

 

Smettiamo prima che questa conversazione prenda una brutta piega.

Let’s stop before this conversation takes a turn for the worse.

Let’s stop before this conversation gets ugly/goes bad.

Check out WordReference for more meanings of la piega.

 

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Pappa as opposed to Papa and Papà

We have seen various Yabla videos that use the noun pappa. But first of all, let's remember that there are two P's in the middle of pappa, and they both get pronounced. And the accent is on the first syllable. So don't even think of using it to address or talk about somebody's father. 

 

For "dad," or "daddy," we have papà, used more in the north (babbo is used inTuscany and other areas), with the accent on the second syllable, not to be confused with il papa, the pope, where the accent is on the first syllable. 

Facevo, diciamo, un po' da figlio di papà, no?
I was, shall we say, sort of Daddy's boy, right?
Caption 44, L'arte della cucina: Terre d'Acqua - Part 10

 

Make sure to use a single P in papà. Listen carefully to Yabla videos. Follow along with the Italian captions to pay attention to how Italians handle the single or double P. Try imitating the sounds.

 

Hear papa (pope) pronounced.

 

With pappa, we are usually talking about food that's soft. Little babies don't have teeth yet, so they need purees and the like. 

 

So, a dish made of dried bread that has been softened in liquid can very well be called a pappa. You can eat it with a spoon. (We also have the word “pap” in English—referring to bland, mushy food for babies and to mindless entertainment.)
Tuscan bread can definitely handle this kind of treatment and still have texture!

 

La Pappa has come to mean a meal for a baby or child, even if it contains chewable items. 

Quando fanno la pappa, quindi quando mangiano, possono mettere dei bavaglini per proteggersi.
When they have their porridge, meaning, when they eat, they can wear bibs to protect themselves.
Captions 26-27, Marika spiega: L'abbigliamento - Part 2 of 2

 

But pappa is also a way to referring to food, affectionately, and as we know by now, Italians love their food. The term is used by adults, too.

Bono [buono]! Il profumo è buono, eh!
Good! It smells good, huh!
Eh, le tradizioni sono tradizioni!
Yes, traditions are traditions!
Eh! -C'è poco da fare! -Pappa!
Yeah! -There's little to do about it! -Food!
Captions 44-46, Un medico in famiglia: S1 E2 - Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 8

 

Viva la pappa!

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Dare: the Gift that Keeps on Giving

Dare is an extremely common verb. It basically means "to give." But it also gets used as a sort of catch-all.

We've seen it many times in its informal, imperative form, all by itself:

Dai, dai, dai, dai che ti ho preparato una cosa buonissima che ti piace moltissimo.
Come on, come on, come on, come on, because I made you something very good, that you like a lot.
Caption 74, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP1 - Matrimonio con delitto - Part 3 of 15

 

As we see, it doesn't mean "to give" in this case. It means something like "come on." As "come on," it has plenty of nuances.

 

Dai is often used as a filler, as part of an innocuous and fairly positive comment, and can mean something as generic as "OK." Let's keep in mind that va be' also means "OK!" Va be' is short for vabene (all right).

Mi dispiace, Massimo, ma dobbiamo rimandare il pranzo.
I'm sorry, Massimo, but we have to postpone our lunch.
Va be', dai, se devi andare... facciamo un'altra volta.
OK, then, if you have to go... we'll do it some other time.
Captions 65-66, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 2 of 14

 

Dai is also used to express surprise and/or skepticism. In this case, it is often preceded by ma (but). We see this in last week's segment of Commissario Manara, when Luca figures out that Marta might be the target of a shooting. She feigns skepticism. 

E se per caso il bersaglio non fosse stata la Martini, ma fossi stata tu?
And if by chance the target hadn't been Martini, but had been you?
Io?
Me?
Ma dai!
Yeah, right! / Oh, come on!
Captions 5-7, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP6 - Sotto tiro - Part 13 of 15

 

In English we use the verb  "to have" when giving commands: "Have a seat," "Have a drink," "Have a look." In Italian, though, the verb avere (to have) is rarely used in these situations. And there isn't just one Italian verb that is used, so it may be practical to learn some of these expressions one by one. 

 

We use the verb dare when asking someone to do something like check (dare una controllata), or have a look (dare un'occhiata).

Dai un'occhiatadai un'occhiata...
Have a look around, have a look around...
Caption 43, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 1 of 18

 

Let's not forget the literal meaning of dare, which can easily end up in the informal imperative.

E che fai, non me lo dai un bacetto, Bubbù?
And what are you doing? Won't you give me a little kiss, Bubbù?
Caption 41, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 1 of 12

 

And to echo last week's lesson, and give another example of a verbo pronominale  (a phrasal verb using particelle or short pronoun-related particles) — this time with dare — we have darsela. We have the root verb dare (to give) plus se (to oneself, to themselves, to each other) and la (it). It's hard to come up with a generic translation, as it depends on the other words in the expression, but here are two different ones from Yabla videos. Maybe you can come up with other examples, and we will be glad to dare un'occhiata. The phrasal verb here is darsela a gambe (to beat it, or run away on one's legs).

È che è molto difficile trovare la donna giusta.
It's just that it's very difficult to find the right woman.
Secondo me, se la trovi, te la dai a gambe.
In my opinion, if you find her, you'll high-tail it out of there.
Captions 29-30, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 9 of 18

 

Here's an example from this week's episode of La Ladra:

Aldo Piacentini e la, la, la Barbara Ricci, insomma, i presunti amanti,
che se le davano di santa ragione.

Aldo Piacentini and, uh, uh, uh Barbara Ricci, anyway, the presumed lovers,
who were really beating the crap out of each other.
Captions 29-30, La Ladra: Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - finale

 

The meaning of se le davano isn't very obvious, so let's try taking it apart. Se is a reciprocal indirect pronoun, "to each other"; le is the plural generic direct object pronoun, "them"; and dare, in this case, can stand for "to deliver". In English it might not mean much, but for Italians the meaning is quite clear.

 

We could say they are giving each other black eyes, if we want to use the original meaning of dare.

 

Di santa ragione adds emphasis or strength, and might be translated as "the holy crap," "the hell," or "really."

 

In case you didn't get a chance last week, check out this lesson about verbi pronominali. 

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"Let Me Know" in Italian

In this week's episode of Adriano Olivetti: La forza di un sogno, at the very end, there is an expression that's used just about every day, especially at the end of a conversation, email, a phone call, or text message, so let's have a look.

In this particular case, one person is talking to a few people, so he uses the imperative plural, which happens to be the same as the indicative in the second person plural. 

Fatemi sapere.
Let me know.
Caption 62,  Adriano Olivetti: La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 8 of 26

 

Let's take the phrase apart. The verb fare (to make) has been combined with the object pronoun mi which stands for a me (to me). To that is added the verb sapere (to know), in the infinitive.

 

So, first of all, we might have been tempted to use the verb lasciare (to let, to leave). It would be a good guess, but instead, we use the ubiquitous verb fare"to make me know." Sounds strange in English, right? But in Italian, it sounds just right. You'll get used to it the more you say and hear it. 

 

Let's look at this expression in the singular, which is how you will use it most often.

 

The most generic version is this: fammi sapere (let me know).

Va be', quando scopri qualcosa fammi sapere.
OK, when you discover something, let me know.
Caption 34, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 3 of 18

This use of "to make" plus a verb in the infinitive is also used a lot with verbs besides sapere (to know).

Do a Yabla search of fammi and you will see for yourself. There are lots of examples with all kinds of verbs.

Chi c'è alle mie spalle? Fammi vedere. -Francesca.
Who's behind me? Let me see. -Francesca.
Caption 13, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1 of 15

Sometimes we need to add a direct object to our sentence: "Let me see it."

In this case, all those little words get combined into one word. Fammelo vedere (literally "let me itsee" or Let me see it).

Using fare means we conjugate fare, but not the other verb, which can make life easier!

Fare is a verb that is used on so many occasions. Read more lessons about fare

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When Pensare Doesn't Mean "to Think"

One of our readers has expressed interest in knowing more about a certain kind of verb: the kind that has a special idiomatic meaning when it has particelle (particles) attached to it. In Italian these are called verbi pronominali. See this lesson about verbi pronominali. The particular verb he mentioned is pensarci, so that's where we are going to start.

 

The root verb is pensare, so we assume it has to do with "thinking." The particle is ciCi is one of those particles that mean a lot of things, so check out these lessons about ci. In the following example, pensare is literal: "to think," and ci stands for "of it."

Ma certo! Come ho fatto a non pensarci prima?
But of course! Why didn't I think of it before!
Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 10

 

Sometimes, when used as a kind of accusation, it's basically the same but it has a different feeling.

È un anno che organizziamo questo viaggio. -Potevi pensarci prima.
We've been organizing this trip for a year. -You could have thought of that before.
Caption 32, Ma che ci faccio qui!: Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 2

 

In the two previous examples, pensarci stays in the infinitive, because we have another helping or modal verb in the sentence. But we can conjugate it, too. In the following example, it is conjugated in the second person singular informal imperative.

Pensarci can mean "to think of it," but it can also mean "to think about it."

Noi non potremmo mai mandare avanti la fabbrica da soli, lo sai bene.
We could never run the factory on our own. You know that well.

Adriano, pensaci.
Adriano, think about it.
Captions 37-38, Adriano Olivetti: La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 8

 

But sometimes, pensare doesn't exactly mean to think. It means something more along the lines of "to take care," "to handle," and here, pensare is really tied to the little particle ci as far as meaning goes. Ci still means "of it" or "for it." But we're talking about responsibility. Ci pensi tu (will you take responsibility for getting this done)? For this meaning, it's important to repeat the pronoun, in this case, tu. It helps make the meaning crystal clear, and is part of the idiom. What a huge difference adding the pronoun makes!

Barbagallo, pensaci tu.
Barbagallo, you take care of it.
Caption 1, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 16

Toscani, io c'ho un appuntamento, pensaci tu.
Toscani, I have an appointment, you take care of it.
Caption 57, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 7

Even though in meaning, ci is connected to pensare, we can still separate the two words.

Ci penso io!
I'll take care of it!

 

Ci pensa lei!
She'll take care of it.

 

Pensarci is a very widely used verb in all of its meanings. When you want someone else to do something, it's a very common way of asking. Here are some examples to think about.


Ci pensi tu a lavare i piatti (will you take care of washing the dishes)?
Ci pensi tu a mettere benzina (will you take care of getting gas)?
Ci pensi tu al bucato (will you take care of the laundry)?
Ci pensi tu a preparare la cena (will you take care of getting dinner ready)?
Ci pensate voi a mettere a posto dopo cena? Io vado a dormire (will you [plural] clean up after dinner? I'm going to bed)!
Vuoi veramente comprare una macchina nuovaPensaci bene (do you really want to buy a new car? Think twice about it).
È il momento per andare in vacanzaPensiamoci bene (is it the right time to go on vacation? Let's think about it a moment).

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Ci Siamo (we're there)!

Let's look at a few idiomatic expressions people tend to use when holidays are approaching. They're useful at other times of the year, too.

 

The title of this lesson is ci siamo (we are there). It literally means "we are there," or "we are here," but often means "this is the moment we've all been waiting for" or "we have succeeded." It can also mean "this is the moment we were dreading!"

Ecco qua, ci siamo quasi.
Here we go, we're almost there.
Caption 73, Anna e Marika: Hostaria Antica Roma - Part 3 of 5

 

And when we use it in the negative, non ci siamo, it can mean, "this is not a good thing." It's a synonym for non va bene (this is not OK).

No, no, non ci siamo.
No, no, this is no good.
Caption 91, Anna e Marika - L’Italiana a tavola - Interrogazione sulla Sardegna

 

Natale è alle porte [Christmas is at the doors] (Christmas is just around the corner).

 

Siamo sotto Natale. Sotto usually means "under/underneath/below," but in this case, it means during, or we could construe it to mean under the influence of the holidays. 

 

Sotto le festei negozi fanno orari straordinari (around/during the holidays, shops keep extended hours).

 

In Italy, le feste non finiscono più (the holidays never end). 

 

Christmas starts on the 24th of December with la vigilia (Christmas Eve) and lasts until la Befana (Epiphany). Only after that do kids go back to school and things get back to normal.

 

The 26th of December is Santo Stefano, (Saint Stephen's Day), a perfect time for visiting relatives you didn't see on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Traditionally, shops are closed, but oggi giorno (these days), anything goes.

 

And if there is a weekend in the middle of the festivities, there's il ponte (a four or five-day weekend, literally, "the bridge").

 

Quando una festa viene il giovedì, spesso si fa il ponte (when there's a holiday on Thursday, we often take Friday off for a long weekend).

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Comodo: Comfortable or Handy?

The adjective comodo (comfortable) is easy to find in the dictionary, and is easy to understand, too, in a normal context.

Questo divano è molto comodo (this sofa is very comfortable).

 

Tu disfa le valigiemettiti comodo.
You unpack your bags. Get comfortable.
Caption 114, Casa Vianello: Natale in Casa Vianello - Part 1 of 2

 

In this context, we also have the verb accomodare, which means to get comfortable, but it is used in a wide range of expressions about placing someone or something somewhere or even repairing something. 

Se ho degli ospiti a pranzo o a cena,
If I have guests for lunch or for dinner,
li faccio accomodare qui,
I have them sit here,
questo tavolo.
at this table.
Captions 34-36, Marika spiega: Il salone

 

This verb is very often used in its reflexive form, accomodarsi, especially in formal situations, such as in an office when someone asks you to come in, sit down, or wait somewhere.

Signora Casadio, prego, si accomodi.
Missus Casadio, please have a seat.
Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara: S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 4 

 

Consider this exchange between two young people. Here the ti (the object pronoun "you") is connected to the verb, but the information is the same as in the previous example. And make sure to put the accent on the first in accomodati.

Scusami, è libero?
Pardon me, is this place free?
Sì certo, accomodati. -Posso? -Sì sì... -Grazie.
Yes, sure, have a seat. -May I? -Sure... -Thanks.
Caption 2-3, Milena e Mattia: L'incontro

 

But there are other contexts in which comodo is used in Italian, and these might be a bit harder to grasp.

 

Comodo can mean "convenient," as in an easy answer, as in over-simplifying.

Ho cambiato idea, me ne ero dimenticato, non gliel'ho detto?
I changed my mind, I had forgotten, didn't I tell you that?
Troppo comodo, Manara.
Too convenient, Manara.
Ormai le sue dimissioni saranno già protocollate.
At this point, your resignation will have been registered.
Captions 33-35, Il Commissario Manara: S1E12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 4 of 13

 

In a recent segment of a special Christmas video Casa Vianello, after welcoming their guest and asking him to make himself at home (as in our first example), the Vianellos argue, as they often do. They use a common expression: fare comodo (to be useful, convenient, handy), often paired with the adverb sempre (always) to qualify it. Mrs. Vianello starts in without really thinking through what she is saying:

Comunque, un figlio fa sempre comodo.
Anyway, a child always comes in handy.
Ma come fa sempre comodo? Tu parli di un figlio come se si trattasse di un paio di pantofole di lana.
But what do you mean "One always comes in handy?" You talk about a child as if it were about a pair of woolen house slippers.
Caption 50-51, Casa Vianello: Natale in Casa Vianello - Part 1 of 2

 

The following example offers a more normal context for fare comodo, this time in the past conditional.

Che caldo!
It's so hot!
Certo, un ombrellone nelle ore centrali del giorno avrebbe fatto veramente comodo.
Of course, an umbrella in the middle of the day would have been really handy.
Captions 1-2, Una gita: al lago - Part 3 of 4

 

And here's an example closer to home!

Fanno molto comodo i sottotitoli in due lingue, no?
Subtitles in two languages are very handy, aren't they?

 

For a different sort of expression where comodo is featured, see this lesson

Comodofare comodoaccomodare, and accomodarsi are all closely related, but cover a lot of different kinds of situations and contexts. Little by little, you will get better at untangling them from one another as you continue to listen, read, speak, and write.

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2 Words about Trying:Provare and Provarci

Provare is a verb that has so many meanings and nuances that it merits some attention. In this week's episode of La Ladra, it has a special meaning that is important to be aware of, especially for those who are thinking about dating.

 

But first, let's go to the basic meanings of this verb. Provare is one of several synonyms meaning "to try." See this lesson about this meaning of provare.

Ora ci provo. Vediamo se ci riesco.
I'm going to try it now.  Let's see if I succeed in it.
Caption 50-51, Francesca: neve - Part 3 of 3

 

This exact same construction takes on a different meaning when we're talking about people being sentimentally interested in one another.  Every language has different terms that come into general use when talking about relationships, like "going out," "dating," "going steady" in English, and in Italian, stare insieme (to be together, to be a couple, to go steady).

 

But before that happens, there is usually an approach. We used to call this courting. These days it can be in person, by text, by phone or in person. It can start with a flirtation. But one person has to approach the other. He or she has to try to get the other person's attention. Because there isn't a true equivalent in Italian, flirtare (to flirt) has become a verb we find in the dictionary. 

 

But generally, this stage of the game, the approach, especialy when it's not very subtle, is described in Italian with provarci.

 

So if I want to say, "That guy was flirting with me!" I might say: Ci stava provando con me!

 

Literally, it means "to try it" as in our first example, but, ci, as we know from previous lessons, means many things, and it can mean "to or with something or someone."

Ci vengo anch'io. I'll come with you [there].

 

In this week's episode of La Ladra, Barbara, an employee, is interested in her boss and she doesn't want any interference, and so she gives Alessia, her co-worker, a rough time and accuses her of flirting with him. In reality, poor, shy Alessia has no such intentions, and is quite shocked to be accused of anything of the sort. In this specific context, provarci means to try to get the sentimental attentions of someone (often by flirting).

Alessia:
Ma questo non significa che io... 

But that doesn't mean that I...
Barbara:
Ho visto come lo guardi, sai?

I've seen how you look at him, you know.
Ma tu, con Aldo, non ci devi neppure provare.
But you with Aldo, you mustn't even try to get his attention.
Alessia:
Io? Ma sei matta?

Me? But are you nuts?
Captions 18-21, La Ladra - Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - Part 4 of 14

 

On a general level, however, provarci just means "to try it," as in our first example. In English we leave out any object: we just say "I tried." In Italian, there is usually ci as a general, even neutral, object. It is often shortened to a "ch" sound in a contraction. C'ho provato (I tried). Provaci is an informal command: "Give it a try!"

 

The Italian title for an old Woody Allen film is Provaci ancora, Sam.

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Two Oddball Words in Odd Contexts

In one of this week's videos, we find two words in contexts that could use a bit of explaining.  

We're watching the first segment of a new episode of L'Eredità (the inheritance). To start off the show, there's the usual banter between the host and the contestants with some introductions. It just so happens that one of the contestants has a last name prone to getting joked about.

Buonasera. -Massimiliano Scarafoni.
Good afternoon. -Massimiliano Scarafoni.
Caption 43, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1

The name looks innocent enough, but scarafone (also scarrafonescaraffonescardafone,scordofone) is another word for scarafaggio (cockroach). There's an expression in Italian, and you will see this on the WordReference page for scarafaggioogni scarafaggio sembra bellosua madre (every cockroach is beautiful to its mother). There are other ways to interpret this, from "a face only a mother could love" to "even a homely child is beautiful to his mother." 

Pino Daniele, a famous Neapolitan singer-songwriter made this phrase famous in one of his songs. He used the Neapolitan variant, scarrafone, which is also the title: 'O Scarrafone, so when someone has a last name like that, it's almost impossible not to think of Pino Daniele's song if you've ever heard it. You can listen to the song here.  There is no actual video, just the album cover, but the text in Italian is there, too. 

 

Another word that is good to be able to recognize in a special context is culo. It is an informal word for buttocks, but Italians (informally only, prego!) use it to mean "luck."

Tirato a indovinare! Il solito culo!
Took a guess! The usual butt [luck]!
Caption 6, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 2 of 16

 

But on TV, for example, such words might not be not acceptable, so the contestant's brother says il fattore C and everyone knows what he is talking about. The host then explains jokingly that "C" stands for culturale (cultural) not culo

Be', speriamo che il fattore ci [culo = fortuna] l'aiuta [aiuti] tanto. 
Let's hope that the “C Factor” [butt = luck] helps her out greatly. 
Caption 37-38, L'Eredità: Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1

 

A common comment about someone with good fortune is:

Che culo!
What luck!

It can also be used sarcastically to mean "bad luck."

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Expressing Relief with Menomale or Meno male

Here's a great little expression of relief. Literally, it means "less bad." It's about the relief you feel when worse didn't come to worst! In English we usually say "good thing" or "it's a good thing." We might even say "luckily" or "thank goodness." In the example below, meno male is used with che in a sentence.

 

Meno male che non era un lingotto.
Good thing it wasn't a gold ingot.
Caption 23,  La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 8 of 13

 

It can also be used by itself, and is an easy comment to make in many situations. In the following example, Caterina is worried about Lara, but then Lara finally shows up. Meno male. Thank goodness! 

Ah! Meno malemeno maleecco Lara!
Ah! Thank goodnessthank goodness, here's Lara.
Caption 21,  Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 9 of 17

 

Note that sometimes it's used as one word menomale, and sometimes two: meno male. They're both correct, although some dictionaries will say the two-word version is more proper. 

 

Practice:

When you feel relief that something went better than expected or when you would say "whew!" having avoided a disaster, try saying menomale all by itself. For pronunciation help, listen to some examples by doing a search in the videos tab

 

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Roll up your Sleeves with Rimboccarsi le Maniche

Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work learning a new expression.

 

In a recent video, Marika and Anna show us how to make fricos, a local dish from northern Italy. They are made with humble ingredients, but take a bit of slicing and dicing. So Marika rolls up her sleeves. Italians use this expression both literally and figuratively, as we do in English.

 

In this first example, Marika is speaking literally, and uses the verb tirare (to pull). That's one way to describe the action of rolling up one's sleeves, and perhaps the easiest to pronounce.

Mi sono già tirata su le maniche, come vedi.
I've already rolled up my sleeves, as you can see.
Caption 4, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola - Il frico friulano - Part 2 of 2

 

In the next example, however, the rolling up of the sleeves is figurative, and the classic expression is used:

Be', Claudio è un bravissimo ragazzo, prima di tutto, un vero amico e uno che sa rimboccarsi sempre le maniche.
Well, Claudio's a great guy, first of all, a true friend, and one who always knows how to roll up his sleeves [to pitch in and work hard].
Captions 14-15, L'Eredità -Quiz TV: La sfida dei sei Puntata 1 - Part 5 of 14 

 

Rimboccare (to tuck in, to turn) refers to the edge of something, like a sleeve, a hem, or a sheet, but it's very commonly used in the above-mentioned expression, especially when acknowledging a long job ahead.

 

Rimbocchiamoci le maniche e cominciamo a studiare (let's roll up our sleeves and start studying)!

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How to Have Hindsight in Italian

If you want to talk about hindsight in Italian, you can't really use your intuition.

 

English uses the verb "to see," "to look back." Italian uses the noun senno (wisdom, good judgment, common sense) a not-so-common word outside of expressions such as the present one. It also uses poi, which as an adverb means "then" or "after" and as a noun means "the future," or "the hereafter." So we're talking about wisdom after the fact. 

 

Consider this dialog between Dante and Eva from a recent episode of La Ladra.

 

Ma ragiona. Che cosa potevo fare, eh?
But just think. What could I have done, huh?
Sceglierti meglio la fidanzata.
Choose a better girlfriend.
È facile parlare col senno del poi, ma io non avevo...
It's easy to speak [judge] with hindsight, but I hadn't... 
Captions 17-19, La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 10 of 13

There's a proverb:

Del senno di poi son piene le fosse 
Graves are full of hindsight.
Hindsight has 20/20 vision.

Note that the Italian expression uses the preposition con (with) plus the article il (the): col = con ilCol senno di/del poi (with the wisdom of what happens afterward). In English, we usually say "in retrospect," and "in hindsight," or "with [the benefit of] hindsight."

 

Col senno del poi is an expression we hear often in Italian, but it's just quirky enough that it's hard to guess its intuitively. Senno is a noun we rarely hear. That's why this lesson happened. Now you know!

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Being in the Mood with Stato d'Animo

Italian uses two similar words to talk about the soul or the spirit: animo (soul) and anima (soul, spirit). They basically mean the same thing, but if you look at the dictionary entries, each word has further translations that are more specific. 

They may be interchangeable in certain cases, but there are expressions that always use one or the other, such as stato d'animo. (We'll look at expressions with anima in another lesson.)
 
...e attraversando i pensieri, gli stati d'animo.
...and going over one's thoughts, one's states of mind.
Captions 19-20, Federica Reale: Io e la mia Pupezza  

 

Stato d'animo does mean "state of mind" but it also means "mood" — where you're at psychologically or emotionally — or "frame of mind." We're talking about the non-physical aspects of how one is feeling.Non ho lo stato d'animo per iniziare un progetto nuovo.

Non sono nello stato d'animo per iniziare un progetto nuovo.
I'm not in the right frame of mind to start a new project.
I'm not in the mood to start on a new project.

 

Being in the mood is important to be able to communicate, so stato d'animo is a good phrasal noun to have in your vocabulary.

 

Anima and animo are so similar that we might not notice the difference. That's why this lesson happened. Now you know!

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When Less is More with Un Po'

In the expression un po’,  po’ is short for poco (small quantity). Poco is a very common word that can be an adjective, adverb, noun, or pronoun, and, depending on the context, can correspond to different degrees of quantity.

This week on Yabla, we take a first look at the city of Florence. Arianna has a map to help her figure out how to get around. As she thinks out loud, she uses a common phrase:

Vediamo un pocome possiamo raggiungere il centro della città.
Let's have a look at how we can reach the center of the city.
Caption 7, In giro per l'Italia: Firenze Part 1 

Another way to translate vediamo un po’ is simply “let’s see.” It is extremely common for Italians to add un po’ to a verb, just to round off the expression:

Sentite un poil congiuntivo imperfetto e trapassato:
Have a listen to the simple past and past perfect subjunctive:
Caption 27, Anna e Marika: Il verbo essere - Part 4 of 4 

 

 

Allora ci dice un po' quali sono frutta e verdura tipiche romane?
So could you tell us a moment, which fruits and vegetables are typically Roman?
Caption 37, Anna e Marika: Fruttivendolo

In the example above, the addition of un po doesn’t really add any meaning to the phrase, but it rounds it out. We might also translate it as:

So could you just tell us what fruits and vegetables are typically Roman?

Sometimes un po’ can mean “pretty much” or “just about.” It loses its actual diminutive significance.

Al nord abbiamo precipitazioni e burrasche, un po' dappertutto.
In the north we have rain and storms, just about everywhere.
Caption 59, Anna e Marika: in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 9 of 10 

It can be used to give a vague kind of answer:

Sì. Un poun po'.
Yes, in a way, yesin a way, no [a little bit and a little bit].
Caption 15, Amiche: Filosofie

Ironically, we can also use un po’ to mean a lot, when we insert the adjective bello (nice, beautiful): un bel po’ (a good amount, a good number, plenty).

Non deve essere troppo salata, non... insomma ci sono un bel po' di cose da sapere legate alla mozzarella.
It shouldn't be too salty, not... in other words, there are plenty of things to know in connection with mozzarella.
Captions 30-31, Anna e Marika: La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli - Part 1 of 3

Un po’ has come to mean so many different amounts, and can also  simply mean “some.”

Mi dai un po’ di pane?
Could you give me some bread?

 

So, if someone asks you if you speak Italian, you can answer un po’ but if you really want to say you don’t speak much at all, you might use the diminutive of an already “diminutive” word: un pochino. Or you might even diminish the amount further by saying pochissimo.

Practice - verbs in context:

Returning to this week’s video about Florence, here are the infinitive forms of the verbs Arianna uses in the first person plural (with noi/we). Can you recognize their conjugated forms in the video? Attenzione, some of them are used as auxiliaries/helping verbs attached to other verbs. You can use your ears to listen for the verbs while watching the video, or use your eyes with the transcript (you’ll find the pop-up link following the description of the video). Don’t forget, you can choose to see only Italian or Italian and English. A couple of these verbs are irregular, but super common. Why not take the opportunity to review the other conjugations of these verbs? Links are provided to a conjugation chart for each verb.

Essere (to be)

Vedere (to see)

Andare (to go)

Stare (to be/to continue to be)

Potere (to be able to/can)

Attraversare (to cross)

Chiamare (to call)

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Being Miffed in Italian

In this week's segment of La Ladra, Eva is pretty miffed at her son. He lied to her and probably did worse. So when he promises to do something right, she doesn't say thank you, because she expects nothing less. She uses an expression that is very handy and easy to use because it's always in the third person and can stand alone.

Ti prometto che vado a scuola in bici. OK?
Sarà 
meglio.
I promise I'll go to school by bike. OK?
You had better.
Captions 54 - 55, La Ladra :Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 4 of 13

 

To use this expression, we use the future tense. As we have already discussed in a previous lesson, the future doesn't always actually mean the future. In this particular case, it may be hard to pin down the correct tense, but the tone is clear. You better get in line. If you don't do as you've promised, you're going to be in big trouble.

 

Sarà is the third person singular of the verb essere (to be). For more about this verb and this tense, see these video lessons from Daniela.

 

As a stand-alone expression, sarà meglio (one/you had better) works in many situations, especially if you raise your eyebrows. But it can also be part of a more complicated sentence including the subjunctive.

È da solo? -No, in compagnia del mio telefonino.
Are you alone? -No, in the company of my cell phone.
Allora sarà meglio che Le parli prima che squilli.
So I had better talk to you before it rings.
It would be better for me to talk to you before it rings.
Captions 42 - 44, La Ladra: Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 9 of 17

 

An even shorter expression uses the verb essere (to be) in the third person singular future on its own, to mean, "that might very well be." You don't have to be miffed to use this expression, but you're probably somewhat skeptical.

Hai visto che non è come sembra, ma molto meglio?
You see that he's not like he seems, but much better?
Sarà, ma quella bionda che abbracciava nella Spider non sembrava un fornitore di tartufi.
That might very well be, but that blonde he was hugging in the Spider didn't look like a truffle dealer.
He might very well be, but that blonde he was hugging in the Spider didn't look like a truffle dealer.
Captions 41 -43, La Ladra - Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 3 of 13

 

Practice:
As you go about your day, try experimenting with sarà meglio (you are the boss and you're not taking any flak) and sarà (you're listening but you are skeptical).

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The Good, the Bad...

When we talk about people and life, we use certain somewhat standard words and expressions to describe the good and the bad.

 

Rather than using the adjectives “good” and “bad,” and their comparatives (for better or for worse), Italian tends to use the nouns il bene (goodness) and il male (evil) or, ”the good” and “the bad.”

 

In this week’s episode of L’Eredità quiz show, the host and contestants are talking about someone’s character. Some character traits can be either positive or negative or both, and that’s what they’re talking about here.

Nel bene e nel male. -Nel bene e nel male, per il resto tutti pregi, insomma.
For better and for worse. -For better and for worse, but for the rest, all positives, in short.
Caption 9, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 1 - Part 2 of 3

 

In wedding vows, Italians traditionally say it a different way.

Vuoi tu, Lara Rubino, prendere il qui presente Luca Manara come tuo legittimo sposo, essergli fedele sempre nella buona e nella cattiva sorte, nella gioia e nel dolore?
Do you Lara Rubino wish to take the here present Luca Manara as your lawful husband, to be ever faithful to him in good times and in bad times [for better or for worse], in joy and in sorrow?
Captions 45-48, Il Commissario Manara 2: Matrimonio con delitto Ep. 1 - Part 1 of 15 

 

Bene and male are both nouns and adverbs.The adjective forms are buono (good) and malo (bad). See this lesson about malo.

 

Closely connected to bene and male are pregi e difetti (strengths and weaknesses, strong points and weak points, virtues or qualities and shortcomings or flaws). There are various ways to say this in English but Italians commonly talk about un pregio  or un difetto. Links have been provided to WordReference so you can see how many nuances there are of these nouns.

 

Note that Adriano uses qualche (some, a few) with a singular noun, but the intention is plural. See this lesson about qualche. He could have said alcuni difetti (a few shortcomings).

La mia ragazza ha molti pregi, ma anche qualche difetto.
My girlfriend has many virtues, but also a few shortcomings.
È molto testarda, è un po' capricciosa...
She's very stubborn, she's a bit unpredictable...
Captions 33-34, Adriano: la sua ragazza  

 

Back to our quiz show... They talk about excess as being both a quality and a weakness.

È anche il suo pregioL'eccesso è... -È così... è così, insomma... -il suo pregio e il suo difetto.
It's also his strong point. Excess is... -It’s like that... is like that, all in all... -his strong point and his weakness.
Captions 10-12, L'Eredità -Quiz TV: La sfida dei sei Puntata 1 - Part 2 of 3

 

Practice:

Quali sono i tuoi pregi (what are your strong points)?  i difetti (and your weak points)?
Can you talk about your job or your school, your teachers or your boss, your friends, siblings, or pets using pregi and difetti?

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Come mai?

A subscriber has asked about the common but difficult-to-translate expression come mai.

For starters, let’s take it apart.

Come (how) is easy enough and mai (never, ever) is as well. So we would be inclined to translate come mai as “ how ever.” With a bit of moving the words around, we could come up with:

Come riuscirai mai farlo?
How are you ever going to be able to do that?

 

But what we're examining in this lesson is the idiomatic expression come mai as a unit, because, yes, it can stand on its own or be inserted as is, into a question or certain kinds of statements. 

 

It’s most easily translated as “how come?” “How come” is another way to say “why.” “How come” is actually short for “how did it come about that” and dates from the mid-1800s. We can also translate it as “how is it that...” So we could say that come mai is another way of saying perché when perché means “why.” You may ask: When does perché not mean “why?” See this lesson to find out!

 

Come mai often expresses surprise at things being different from what one expects, so it’s an expressive way of saying “why.” In certain contexts where there is intense surprise at someone’s actions or decisions, it can even be translated as “why on earth?”

Come mai non hai tolto la pentola dal fuoco?
Why on earth didn’t you take the pot off the burner?

 

But come mai can also be a less aggressive way to say perché in certain situations. After all, with come mai, you are interested in knowing the other person’s reasons for doing something. So it’s not a cold, indifferent question. You may also be giving someone the benefit of the doubt. As an example, let’s say that the other person is usually reliable, but this time they messed up. Come mai? You’re wondering about it.

 

The question, perché non mi hai chiamato? asked with a certain tone, can be almost accusatory or dry, but come mai non mi hai chiamato implies that I was really expecting you to have called me, and so you must have a good reason for not calling me.

 

Let’s look at some examples from Yabla videos.

Ma sai che anche io mi sento un po' stanca, chissà come mai.
But you know that I feel a little tired, too, who knows why?
Caption 22, Anna e Marika: Il verbo avere - Part 2 of 4

The speaker could easily have said the following, and meant pretty much the same thing:

Ma sai che anche io mi sento un po' stanca, chissà perché.

 

But come mai gives us the idea that she is truly wondering why she is tired. She shouldn’t be. She slept fine.

 

Io so perché si chiama arena. - Ah, è vero! Come mai si chiama arena?
I know why it's called an arena. -Oh, that's right! How come it's called an arena?
Caption 17, Marika e Daniela: Colosseo, interno - Part 1 of 2 

In the above example, the speaker could easily have used perché. But come mai implies some real curiosity. It might indicate the wish to hear the long answer rather than the short one.

 

Let’s remember that perché can mean both “why” and “because.” Come mai, on the other hand, is mostly used in questions but also in some negative or questioning statements, such as:

Non so come mai arrivo sempre in ritardo.
I don’t know why I always come late.

 

Come mai never means “because.”

 

In the following example, Mimì of "La Bohème" is talking about a change in Alfredo’s behavior. Since she was jolted by this change, she uses come mai.

Era diventato geloso. Non capivo come mai.
He had become jealous. I couldn't understand why.
Captions 27-28, Anna presenta: La Bohème di Puccini - Part 1 of 2 

 

Hopefully, you now know a bit more about using come mai. If you have more questions about this topic, let us know!

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Colloquial Speech

This lesson looks at some colloquial expressions from the last segment of Stai lontana da me, a comedy. 

 

When asking for confirmation of what you have said, here’s one way:

Dico bene?
Am I saying it well [am I right/am I telling like it is]?
Caption 27, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17 

 

The prefix ri is similar to “re” in English: it's used to repeat something:

Hai ridetto Monica.
You re-said “Monica” [you said “Monica” again].
Caption 42, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17

 

Niente di niente is colloquial but used quite a bit in everyday speech. In fact, there are two instances in this segment. We can translate it colloquially: “no nothing,” or, in correct English: “nothing at all.”

E in due anni zero litigate, niente di niente. È un vero paradiso.
And in two years, no fights, no nothing. It's true paradise.
Caption 49, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17

E poi a Sara non è successo più un incidente. -No, no, niente di niente.
And then Sara hasn't had any more accidents. -No, no, nothing at all.
Captions 62-63, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17

 

Stra is a prefix meaning “extra” or “over.” It’s used quite a bit to mean “super” or “mega” in colloquial speech, although there are more mainstream words with this prefix, such as stravecchio (very mature or old), stracotto (as an adjective, “very well-cooked”; as a noun, “meat stewed a long time”), stravedere (to think the world of), straviziare (to overindulge).

 

Jacopo’s client used very colloquial speech:

...Cioè perché stra-pesante, cioè una noia totale.
...That is, because super heavy duty, that is, a total bore.
Caption 51, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17

 

His use of cioè (that is) is very close in meaning to "I mean," in English, which some people sprinkle throughout their speech. Ciò is one of those words that in the beginning was two separate ones:  ciò (this that) and è (is).

 

Quasi quasi literally means “almost almost.”

Quasi quasi non ci lasciavamo. -Ciccì, cicciò due palle dottore, a noi ci piaceva litigare.
We were seriously considering not breaking up. -Yatter, yatter what a downer, Doctor. We liked fighting.
Caption 52,  Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17

Some alternative translations:

We were seriously thinking of not breaking up.
We were of a mind not to break up.

 

Here’s an expression to justify asking someone a question. Most Italians know this expression or saying, and some use it automatically. In English, we might say, “There’s no harm in asking.”

Poi, domandare è lecito, rispondere è cortesia.
Besides, asking is permissible; answering is good manners.
Caption 57, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17

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