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Lessons for topic Italian Culture

How to Catch a Cold in Italian

Italians have a reputation for being concerned with drafts, chills, sudden changes of temperature, etc. This translates to parents often being very protective of their kids when it comes to wearing the appropriate clothing for a given situation.

There's a little song featured on Yabla all about this struggle between parents and their children on this subject.

 

Che senza canottiera

Poi mi prendo il raffreddore

That with no undershirt

I will catch a cold later

Captions 17-18, Zecchino d'Oro Metti la canottiera

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Note the verb used to catch or get a cold is prendere (to take). It's often used reflexively, prendersi Another verb that is often used for getting sick, is beccare as in the following example. 

 

Ah, buongiorno. Scusate se starnutisco, ma, purtroppo, mi sono beccata l'influenza. L'influenza è un bruttissimo raffreddore, anzi, un po' più di un raffreddore perché ti prende tutto il corpo e senti i brividi e ti senti debole, ti senti stanca.

Ah, good morning. Sorry if I'm sneezing, but, unfortunately, I've caught the flu. The flu is a really awful cold, rather, a bit more than a cold because it affects your whole body, and you feel shivers, and you feel weak, you feel tired.

Captions 1-5, Marika spiega Il raffreddore

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Marika could have said: Mi sono presa un brutto raffreddore (I caught a bad cold).

When a cold is really bad (as described above by Marika) and you have to stay home from work or school, it's often called l'influenza, even though it might or might not technically be the flu as we understand it. 

 

Note also that l'influenza also means "the influence" and has a verb form influenzare (to influence).

Non credo che la Francia abbia influenzato in modo determinante la mia cucina.

I don't believe that France influenced my cooking in a decisive way.

Caption 13, L'arte della cucina I Luoghi del Mondo - Part 11

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We use the verb beccare to talk about insect bites, too. In this case it isn't reflexive. The mosquito is doing the biting.

M'ha beccato una zanzara.

A mosquito bit me.

 

When we don't have a full-blown cold, but suspect we're about to because we got a chill, we might say:

Ho preso freddo

(I got a chill).

 

The verb is still prendere (to take, to get).

 

Prendere freddo is often the reason given for catching a cold. Things Italians watch out for to avoid this are uno spiffero or corrente (a draft), climatizzatori (air conditioners), ventilatori (fans), and especially not covering up or taking a shower after working up a sweat. 

 

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A Curious but Iconic Italian Vehicle

 

When we see the word “ape,” it makes us think of a rather large, ferocious animal. But in Italian, its meaning is almost the opposite. Ape is the word for "bee." The Ape, as we shall see, was built for people who work, for someone who is busy as a bee.

 

At the end of World War II, many, if not most Italians were having money problems, and certainly only a privileged few had the financial means to buy a car, much less pay for its fuel and maintenance. 

 

The Ape came to the rescue. In 1947, the inventor of the Vespa, (a popular motor scooter whose name means “wasp”) came up with the idea of a light, three-wheeled commercial vehicle to power Italy's economical reconstruction. Piaggio, who had built the Vespa became interested and took on the project. The very first Ape models were glorified Vespas with two wheels in the rear, and a flat-bed structure on top of the rear axle— a sort of tricycle with a motor.

 

Little by little, the model developed to include a cab to protect the driver. Designed as a one-seater, a passenger is often seen squeezed in, as well, but it's definitely a tight fit. There are now doors on either side to facilitate parking right up next to a wall. Although no longer made principally in Italy, the Ape is still in production today!

 

Because of its small scooter-sized engine, the Ape doesn’t go fast (maximum around 60 kilometres an hour), and as a result, you don’t need to have an automobile driver’s license to drive one. The motor is strong enough to carry a sizeable load, and to get up the steep hills found in many parts of the country.

 

We see in the movie Chi m’ha visto, that Peppino’s vehicle is indeed an Ape. Given the size of the streets in so many Italian towns, cities, and country roads as well, the Ape is just right for negotiating them. Peppino races around like a maniac anyway, honking at pedestrians to get out of his way.

 

If you have ever been traveling in Italy, you might have heard an Ape before seeing one. The noise is terrifying especially as it climbs steep, narrow, cobblestone streets in the middle of an old town, where the close stone walls amplify the sound even more. Getting caught behind one on a narrow road can add hours and frustration to your trip. Fortunately, the Ape is so narrow, the driver can hug the side of the road so that cars can pass. Menomale!

 

Still a familiar sight all over Italy, the Ape is amazingly useful for the handyman, gardener, farm worker, delivery man, etc.

 

In an episode of Commissario Manara, Manara himself actually drives an Ape to figure out how a crime had been committed. He's putting himself in the killer's place.

Al piazzale davanti allo studio ci potrei andare a piedi, invece ci vado con l' Ape. Perché? Perché devo trasportare qualcosa, qualcosa di pesante. E che cos'è?

To the courtyard in front of the studio I could go by foot, but instead I go with the "Ape." Why? Because I have to transport something, something heavy. And what is it?

Captions 44-47, Il Commissario Manara S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 9

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Even though the Ape is pretty small already, many Italians use a diminutive suffix and call it l'Apino. It also distinguishes it from ape the insect, and it renders the idea of "small."

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The Dottore is In

You might have noticed, from watching TV shows and movies on Yabla, or elsewhere, that in Italy, the term dottore (doctor) is used loosely, or rather, differently than in other countries. In fact, addressing someone with a particular role often means using their title (or guessing at it). Sometimes signor (Mr.) and signora (Mrs.) just don't seem respectful enough.

 

One example of this usanza (use, custom) occurs in a recent episode about Adriano Olivetti.

Io e la mia famiglia dobbiamo tutto al Dottor Dalmasso.

My family and I owe everything to Doctor Dalmasso.

Caption 61, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 12

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Dalmasso is just an executive in a company, not necessarily a doctor (even in terms we go on to describe below), but he is one of the most important people there. People treat him with respect by using dottore instead of his name or they shorten it to dottor when it's followed directly by the person's name: Dottor Dalmasso, in this case.

 

In some cases dottor is used, but with a person's first name. Many people follow the reasoning that it's better to be too respectful than not respectful enough. In the following example, Giacomo could be a physician or someone's boss. We would need context to determine this.

Dottore! -Gina! -Dottore! Dottor Giacomo. Che succede? -Signora, Giacomo non risponde. -Giacomo!

Doctor! -Gina! - DoctorDoctor Giacomo. What's going on? -Ma'am, Giacomo isn't responding. -Giacomo!

Captions 3-4, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 1

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If the person is a woman, then it's dottoressa by itself, or followed by the name (first name or last name depending on the relationship). In the following example, the dottoressa in question works at city hall. Her position of importance gives her the title, more than any degree she might (or might not) have.

Dottoressa, scusate, ma perché ci volete fare questo regalo?

Doctor, excuse me, but why do you want to give us this gift?

Caption 24, L'oro di Scampia - film - Part 14

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Lawyers also fall into the "important person" category and are often addressed by their professional status. We might liken this to the use of "Esquire," or "Esq." for short, used primarily in written correspondence with attorneys. 

Sì, avvocato De Santis.

Yes, Attorney De Santis.

Caption 50, La Ladra - Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - Part 3

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The other way dottore is used is for someone with a college or university degree. Graduates earning the title dottore have often completed a Laurea triennale (three-year bachelor's degree equivalent) plus a Laurea Magistrale (two-year master's degree equivalent). It has nothing to do with being a medical doctor. Learn more here about higher learning in Italy.

 

As well as being an industrialist, Adriano Olivetti designed machinery, so it makes sense for him to have the title of ingegnere (engineer.) And so in the film about Olivetti, that's how many people address him. It so happens that he did, indeed, have a degree in engineering.

Ingegnere, Lei mi sta facendo una proposta incredibile.

Sir, you are making me an incredible offer.

Caption 46, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 12

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Other titles commonly used in Italian before a name, or in place of a name, are Architetto (architect), Commissario, (commissioner, chief) Notaio (notary). 

We hope this little article has shed some light on this curious usanza (custom). Finding a suitable translation for these titles can be tough. Sometimes there's no good alternative, so we use a word we feel can fill the bill, even if it isn't a word-for-word translation. 

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When Giallo is not Only a Color

This brings us to another word used in this week's segment of L'Eredità, the quiz show: giallo (yellow).

Ritenne che la maggior parte dei pendolari aveva una grande passione per i racconti gialli.
She found that the majority of commuters had a great passion for yellow [detective] stories.
Captions 36-37, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 2 Part 12

Here, although the color yellow does play an important role, un giallo is something specific: a crime, mystery or detective story. Note: The moderator of the quiz show uses giallo as an adjective: i racconti gialli (the detective stories) and it is common to say un romanzo giallo (a detective novel), to specify the format, but giallo as a noun encompasses any format and is widely used and understood by Italians. 

 

But what's this "yellow" business?

 

Here's the story. (click here for the extended Italian version).

 

In 1929, Mondadori, a major Italian publishing house, came out with a series of detective novels. They were tascabili (in paperback, literally "pocket-sized") and had a distinguishing yellow cover. They were called libri gialli della Mondadori (Mondadori's Yellow Books). In 1946, the name of these books changed to gialli Mondadori. The name giallo caught on, and has been used ever since to indicate a detective, crime, or police mystery, and can be applied to books, comic books (as in Diabolik mentioned on the quiz show), movies, or even news events. Giallo with this meaning has become a word everyone should know, especially if you like to read. And it can't be guessed at if you don't know the story. But now you know the story, too.

 

You may have heard of an American television series from the eighties and nineties called Murder, She Wrote with Angela Lansbury. This series, dubbed into Italian, became extremely popular (and stilll is) as La Signora in Giallo (The Lady in Yellow). This play on words should make sense to you now!

 

Read this article (in Italian) for more information about the Italian version of the show, and, why not? Find it for streaming in Italian, just for fun.

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Little Easter: Forming Diminutives

Pasqua (Easter) is a spring holiday. Although things are changing, traditionally, Italy is still a Roman Catholic country, so Pasqua is a big deal in all parts of the country. Local priests travel around the town and countryside to bless homes in the weeks preceding Easter. On la domenica delle palme (Palm Sunday), churches are filled, and olive branches are distributed. There are plenty of palm trees in Italy, but olive branches have become the tradition.

 

Some towns and cities stage elaborate processions on venerdì santo (Good Friday). There are famous ones in cities such as Gubbio and Assisi in Umbria, as well as in the Colosseum in Rome.

 

Let’s have a reminder of what Marika shared with us when talking about Christmas:

Ma prima voglio dirti che [sic] "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi".
But first I want to tell you that [sic] "Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you want".
Caption 4, Marika spiega: La vera storia di Babbo Natale - Part 1 of 2 

 

This is a very famous rhymed saying in Italy. Christmas is dedicated to family, and you are really expected to spend it with your family, but Easter is less strict. In addition, just as December 26th is a holiday in Italy (Santo Stefano), to invite the relatives you didn’t invite for la vigilia (Christmas Eve) or Natale (Christmas Day), Easter Monday or Pasquetta (little Easter), also called Lunedì dell’ angelo (Monday of the angel), is still a holiday, and still a part of Pasqua. It gives everyone a second opportunity to get together with the people they didn’t see on Easter Sunday. It’s been a national holiday since after World War II, intended to give people more time off from work and school. Many Italians use this day to spend in the country, with a picnic or walk. 

 

We alter Pasqua to become Pasquetta by adding a suffix. The suffix changes the quality but not the basic substance of the noun it's attached to. So, let's talk about this -etta suffix. We see that it indicates “small,” or “less important.” What are some other words that can have the diminutive suffix added?

 

Ora (hour) - un'oretta (a short hour, about an hour, a little under an hour, an hour or so).

Se avete tempo, potete farli [farle] lievitare da soli [sole] un'altra oretta, altrimenti procedete.
If you have time, you can have each one rise on its own for another hour or so, otherwise go ahead.
Captions 13-14, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a Tavola - Panzerotti Pugliesi - Part 2 of 2 

 

La cena (the dinner) - una cenetta (a light supper, an intimate dinner)

E per farmi perdonare, che ne dici stasera di una cenetta solo per noi due?
And to get you to forgive me, what do you say to a little dinner for just the two of us?
Caption 41, Acqua in bocca: Tra moglie e marito... -  Ep 11 

 

So far, we have used feminine nouns as examples. Masculine words work the same way, but we use -etto.

 

Un divano (a couch, a sofa) - un divanetto (a loveseat)

Seguitemi, questo è un tipico divanetto siciliano.
Follow me, this is a typical Sicilian little loveseat.
Caption 23, Adriano: Negozio di Antichità Sgroi  

 

Only a few words with -etta and -etto as suffixes have been mentioned here. There are many more. And note that -etto and -etta are not the only suffixes used as diminutives. There are -ino and -ina, too, but we’ll talk about these another time.

Learn more about suffixes that alter words.

Enjoy your Pasquetta, whether you are a casa (at home), al lavoro (at work), scuola (at school), in viaggio (traveling), con amici (with friends) or in vacanza (on vacation).

To learn what countries do consider Easter Monday a holiday, and in what way, see this Wikipedia article

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