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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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Lo Shopping: Useful vocabulary for shopping in Italy

 

One English word has been largely adopted all over Italy: Shopping.

Non si deve fare shopping sulla spiaggia a fine stagione.
One shouldn't shop on the beach at the end of the season.
Caption 31,  Francesca: sulla spiaggia - Part 2 of 3 


Italians pronounce it with their kind of O and they give the double P some importance, but it’s recognizable.


They also use the article lo (the) since the S is phonetically “impure” (esse impuro) meaning that it’s followed by another consonant, in this case, H. For more on articles, see Daniela’s lessons.


But let’s be clear. Lo shopping is not grocery shopping. To do the grocery shopping is fare la spesa (literally, to do the spending).


Whatever you do — lo shopping to buy some new shoes, or fare la spesa to buy groceries for a dinner you are planning, it’s handy to have some words to communicate with the shopkeepers.


More and more Italians are able to communicate with tourist-shoppers in English. But to be on the safe side, let’s look at some essential vocabulary.

Prices are often indicated, but if not, you need to ask:

Quanto costa il giubbino? -Trentacinque.
How much does the jacket cost? -Thirty-five.
Caption 19, Serena: in un negozio di abbigliamento - Part 2 of 2


You won’t get arrested if you leave a store without a receipt, but it’s advisable to have it. In some places, the salesperson might try to get out of giving you a receipt, but it is your right to obtain it. Since tourists don’t necessarily know that, it’s easy to overlook it. If you need to return an item or exchange it, you will need the receipt. Sometimes you have to ask for it.

 

Mi dà lo scontrino per favore (can you give me a receipt, please)?

 

When it's offered, it's a good sign.

Grazie. -Aspetta che ti devo fare lo scontrino.
Thanks. -Wait, because I have to give you your receipt.
Caption 36,  Serena: un pacchetto regalo 

 

Most shops accept electronic payment, but at the outdoor markets, cash is more common.

Pago in contanti. 
I'll pay in cash.
Caption 40, Marika spiega: L'euro in Italia, con Anna 

 

If you do pay in cash, you might not have any change, especially if you got some nice crisp banconote (bills) from the Bancomat (ATM machine).

Mi dispiacenon ho spiccioli.
I'm sorry, I don't have any change.
Caption 21, Marika spiega - L'euro in Italia, con Anna 

 

So spiccioli  (with the accent on the first syllable) means "small change," but when we're talking about someone giving you change, it's a different story. Il resto does mean "the rest" but here, it means "[the rest of] what I owe you."

Ah, vabbé, non si preoccupi, ora Le do il resto. Prego.
Oh, OK, don't worry about it, now I'll give you your change. Here you are.
Caption 22, Marika spiega - L'euro in Italia, con Anna

 

Italians use the English word “cash” to mean “cash,” but sometimes they say "the cash" to mean la cassa, which is the cashier or check-out counter.

Dove si paga (where does one pay)?
Alla cassa (at the cash register/check-out counter).

 

Have you had any negative experiences in buying things on vacation in Italy? Do you have questions about shopping vocabulary or customs?

Write to us at newsletter@yabla.com.

 

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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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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

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.
Doctor! -Gina! - DoctorDoctor Giacomo.
Che succede? -Signora, Giacomo non risponde. -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 of 12

 

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?
Ma'am, excuse me, but why do you want to give us this gift?
Caption 24, L'oro di Scampia: film - Part 14 of 25

 

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 of 14

 

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

 

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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Dotato o Negato? (Gifted or Talentless?)

Either you've got it or you don't. In English you have talent or you don't have it. But in Italian, there is a special word for each end of the scale. Dotato or negato.

Il maestro dice che non ha mai visto nessuno più negato di me
The teacher says he has never seen anyone less gifted than me.
Caption 41, Rai Cinema Questione di Karma - Part 9

 

So the speaker had to use the Italian comparative adverb più (more) before the adjective negato (not at all gifted). Whew! Talk about something not translating smoothly into English!

 

Negato is really a great word, though. It offers a great excuse when you want to get out of doing something you don't like to do. 

Sono negato! Fallo tu.
I'm no good at this! You do it.

 

That isn't to say that we can't also talk about having or not having talent, as, for example, in this week's segment of Adriano Olivetti's story:

Adriano, tu hai così tanti talenti.
Adriano, you have so many talents.
Caption 22, Adriano Olivetti: La Forza di un Sogno part 7

 

Another way we can translate negato is "hopeless," because negato implies that one is never going to get better at something. He or she is lacking in the wherewithal to improve. Instead of a higher being bestowing a gift (the gift of talent) on someone, it has been denied him or her.

Ma, dottore non mi dice niente?
But Doctor don't you have anything to say?
Le dico che Lei è negato.
I'll tell you that you're hopeless.
Captions 43-44, Psicovip: Il ballo - Ep 25

 

And in fact, the verb negare means "to deny."

Senta, Lei è un bel tipo, io non lo posso negare.
Listen, you're a cute guy, I can't deny it.
Caption 6, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 6 of 14

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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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3 Ways of being a cavallo (on horseback)

There's a great expression in Italian to describe being between two things: cavallo, or rather, essere a cavallo di or tra/fra (to straddle) meaning con un piede da una parte euno dall'altra (with one foot on one side and the other on the other side).

Di solito, questo stato influenzale, quindi il raffreddore o l'influenza,
Usually, this flu-like state, that is, a cold or the flu
si prende nel periodo che è a cavallo di due stagioni in particolare.
is caught in the period that straddles two seasons in particular.
Captions 7-8, Marika spiega: Il raffreddore

 

The expression is often used figuratively when referring to historical dates: cavallo di due secoli —negli anni finali di un secolo e iniziali del successivo (straddling two centuries: in the last years of one century and the first years of the following one).

 

We also use cavallo to mean touching on two or three places. 

Maratea si trova al sud d'Italia, eh... a cavallo di tre regioni:
Maratea is located in the south of Italy, uh... straddling three regions:
Caption 35, Antonio: Maratea, la carne e il pesce

 

But without the proposition di (of) or fra/tra (between), cavallo means something else entirely.

 

Essere a cavallo can mean "to be golden, in good shape." In other words, we're riding horses rather than having to walk, and that's a good achievement.

Ora lo facciamo analizzare
Now we'll have it analyzed
se corrisponde a quello trovato sul mio cuscino,
and if it corresponds to the one found on my pillow,
siamo a cavallo.
we'll be in the saddle [all set].
Captions 11-13, Il Commissario Manara: S2EP3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola - Part 10 of 14

 

Firmi, ed è fatta.
Sign, and it's done.
Ah, allora siamo a cavallovedi?
Ah, so we're on horseback [we're on our way, we're in good shape], you see?
Captions 42-43, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 12 of 16

 

Of course, there is the literal meaning as well: andare a cavallo (to go horseback riding).

a cavallo ci si arriva?
And can you get there on horseback?
Caption 63, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola- Interrogazione sulla Puglia - Part 1 of 2
 

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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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How to Talk About Email in Italian

How do Italians talk about email? Even in English we don't all use the same spelling. Some people write it as one word; some use a hyphen. We also use email as a verb in English, too: "I'll email you." Language doesn't stay the same. It evolves.

 

In Italian, too, "email" as a word, and as a concept, receives different treatment from different people. Be that as it may, the official name for email is la posta elettronica. It makes sense: the electronic mail.

 

And if you say la posta elettronica, you won't be wrong. But la posta elettronica actually stands for email in general, or even the inbox itself. One single email is more like unmessaggio di posta elettronica.

 

Still, more and more frequently, Italians use English words when talking about computers and the internet.

 

Since saying la posta elettronica every time can get old pretty quickly, the English term emailhas been adopted by many Italians. It's certainly quicker to say than la posta elettronica or unmessaggio di posta elettronica. But there's a basic problem. La posta is a feminine noun, so it makes sense for email to be feminine, too. So it might become la email. But how to pronounce the "E"?

 

Vowels:
Many Italians don't fully realize that we Americans pronounce the "E" in "email" like the letter "E."  We say email, e-book, ezine, e-commerce, etc. In Italian, an "E" is pronounced more like the "A" in make.

 

Italians learn to pronounce just about every letter they see. There are rules. But when they come upon foreign words, they can have a hard time imagining a pronunciation different from what think it should be by following the rules. As in most languages, people invent a version of a foreign word that sounds good or right to them. 

 

And regarding the word "mail," an average Italian who doesn't know English would pronounce the "mai" in "mail" as something more akin to "my."  So it's actually a very difficult word to pronounce.

 

To pronounce email in a similar way to English, an Italian would write something like ìmeil. Pretty weird, right?

 

Accent:
In English, we put the accent on the "E," and when the word came into being, there was a hyphen so it was easier to figure this out, but Italians don't necessarily realize that it's the letter "E" as an abbreviation for "electronic." They just read it as they see it and the accent ends up on "mail."

 

So we get la email or worse, una email, with two vowels juxtaposed: "A" followed by "E," neither of which is accented. It's awkward.

 

So lots of people just shorten email to mail

Ti mando una mail.
I'll send you an email.

 

In the latest episode of La Ladra, someone is sending some files via email. But what they say is via mail. It has become very common to say it this way.

Allora, io Le mando via mail tutti i dati della villa
So, I will send you all the information about the villa by email.
Caption 52, La Ladra - Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - Part 3 of 14

 

In the following example, la mail refers to a single email.

L'hai mandata la mail al commercialista?
Did you send the email to the accountant?
Caption 30, Marika spiega: Pettegolezzi in ufficio con Anna

 

In the following example, what's meant is the email account.

Se per te privacy è entrar nella mia mail e scrivere a Marco al posto mio...
If privacy for you means going into my email account and writing to Marco in my place...
Caption 55, Stai lontana da me: Rai Cinema - Part 11 

 

Sometimes you need to provide your email address.

Certo. Qual è l'indirizzo mail?
Sure thing. What's your email address?
Caption 68, Italiano commerciale: Cominciare un nuovo lavoro - Part 2 of 2

 

Italians have found a darling way to name the @: the "at" sign. They call it a chiocciola (a snail).

Sì, certo. È Arianna chiocciola Phones and More punto it.
Yes, of course. It's A - R - I - A - N - N - A at Phones and More dot it.
Caption 68, Italiano commerciale - Cominciare un nuovo lavoro - Part 2 of 2

 

Can you provide your email address in Italian? If you can't remember how to say the names of the letters, check out Marika's video. If you have trouble making yourself understood, check out this handy telephone alphabet. Remember that punto (point, period, full stop, dot) is what you say for the dot in "dot com." In Italy, some email addresses end in "com," but many end in it for Italy. Sometimes it gets spelled "I-T" but sometimes it gets pronounced as a word, as in the previous example. 

 

Italians use English words more and more frequently, but they might differ from the original in meaning and in pronunciation, so they might be the hardest words to understand when an Italian is using them in the middle of an Italian sentence.

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Meglio or Migliore?

In our last lesson, there was mention of the Italian comparative adjective migliore (better).  This brought up an excellent question on the part of one of our readers. What's the difference between migliore and meglio? They both mean "better." When should we use meglio instead of migliore?

 

It's a great question, because the answer is not so simple. On a very basic level, migliore is an adjective and is the comparative of buono (good). It is also, with the addition of an article, the superlative of buono (good), as in the following example.

 

La moto è il mezzo migliore per superare il traffico.
The motorbike is the best means of transportation for getting past the traffic.
Caption 27, Adriano: Giornata 

 

Migliore stays the same in both the masculine and the feminine.

Io voglio solo una vita migliore di questa.
I just want a better life than this.
Caption 70, L'oro di Scampia - film - Part 5 of 25 

 

La mia migliore amica.
My best [girl]friend.
Caption 53, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 7  

 

But in the plural it's always migliori, for both the masculine and the feminine.

Ed è uno dei vini migliori della Basilicata, è chiamato Aglianico.
And it's one of the best wines of Basilicata, it's called Aglianico.
Caption 53, Milena: al supermercato

 

No, veramente le cose migliori le abbiamo fatte insieme, no?
No, actually, the best things are the ones we've done together, right?
Caption 47, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 7 of 12

 

Migliore and its plural form migliori can also be nouns, just like in English. 

Sei il/la migliore!
You're the best!

 

Migliore is either an adjective or a noun — never an adverb.

 

Meglio, on the other hand, is basically an adverb, so it makes sense for it to be the comparative of bene (well). Meglio often means in modo migliore (in a better way).

Facciamo un esempio così capite meglio.
Let's make up an example, that way you'll understand better.
Caption 7, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Approfondimento Verbi Modali - Part 1 of 2

 

But meglio has a gray area, too, and is much more flexible than migliore. Unlike migliore, which is either an adjective or a noun, meglio, in addition to being an adverb, is often also used colloquially as an adjective or in some contexts as a noun. It's also used in a huge number of expressions. 

 

Note that the verb migliorare exists, too, to mean "to improve," to "get better."

Se posso migliorare, perché non farlo?
If I can improve, why not do so?
Caption 4, L'arte della cucina: L'Epoca delle Piccole Rivoluzioni - Part 13 of 16

Il mio italiano è molto migliorato.
My Italian has gotten much better.

 

We'll focus on meglio next week, but in the meantime, why not compare things with migliorein your home or workplace?

Think about food, movies, books, the time of day/year for doing something.

Per esempio:

In questo bar, fanno il miglior caffè della città.
In this bar, they make the best coffee in the city.

Il mio italiano scritto è migliore di qualche anno fa.
My written Italian is better than a few years ago.

Non ero la migliore della classe quando andavo a scuola. 
I wasn't the best in the class when I went to school.

Qual è la stagione migliore per visitare la Sicilia?
What's the best month for visiting Sicily?

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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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A Few Unconventional Plurals

This lesson is based on the premise that you basically know how to form the plural of nouns. To help you get caught up, very generally, if a noun ends in "o," it's usually masculine and the plural usually will end in "i." If it ends in "e," the plural will also likely end in "i", and if a singular noun ends in "a," (usually feminine), the plural will most likely end in "e." To learn more, check out Daniela's lessons about plurals here and here.

 

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. In two different videos this week, we find unconventional plurals, one of which is well worth knowing, and one that you likely won't run into every day.

 

In one video, Arianna goes to Lucca. She learns that Lucca still has its ancient walls: le mura. The singular is il muro (the wall).

Le mura hanno tutto un percorso sopra che puoi fare.
The walls have a whole path on top that you can do.
Caption 63, In giro per l'Italia: Lucca

To help you remember the name for "wall," in Italian, think of a mural, which is a piece of art, like a painting or enlarged photograph, right on a wall. Or think of "intramural" — within the walls of a school or institution.

 

Anna and Marika are busy in the kitchen dealing with fish, and more specifically, anchovies. They are pretty small fish, so taking out the guts is a tedious job they gladly leave to the fish vendor.

 

You might be familiar with the adjective interiore (inside, internal, interior) but there is a noun, le interiora, which means "the guts," "the entrails," or "the internal organs," and is always in the plural: interiora.

Le alici dovranno essere senza testa e eviscerate...
The anchovies should be without their heads and gutted...
Quindi bisogna togliere le interiora.
Therefore, one needs to remove the entrails.
Caption 13 - 15, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a Tavola - Involtini di alici - Part 1

 

And let's not forget some other unconventional plurals that work pretty much the same way:

un uovo, due uova (one egg, two eggs)

Prendiamo una forchetta e iniziamo a sbattere le uova...
We take a fork and begin beating the eggs...
Caption 13, Adriano: Pasta alla carbonara - Part 2 of 2

 

un braccio, due braccia (one arm, two arms)

Ma com'è?
But what's she like?
E com'è? C'ha due gambe, due braccia, due occhi, come deve essere?
So what's she like? She has two legs, two arms, two eyes. What should she be like?
Captions 13 - 14, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola - Part 4 of 14

 

un miglio, due miglia (one mile, two miles)

La Mille Miglia è la corsa più bella del mondo!
The "Mille Miglia" [one thousand miles] is the greatest race in the world!
Caption 33, La Mille Miglia: del passato per vivere quella di oggi - Part 3 of 3

 

un migliaio di, poche migliaia di (about a thousand, a few thousand)

Il debito era di poche migliaia di euro.
The debt was of a few thousand euros.
Caption 40, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 14 of 16

 

un paiodue paia (a pair, two pairs)

Ma quattro paia di scarpe vanno bene lo stesso.
But four pairs of shoes are fine, too.
Caption 52, Psicovip: I Visitatori - Ep 14

 

This list is not complete, but we'll look at other such nouns in a future lesson.

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A Righe or a Quadretti?

Lots of adjectives in Italian correspond to adjectives in English and vice versa, but sometimes an adjective form doesn't really exist in one language or the other, and a different form is used. One such form uses a (which is usually a preposition meaning "to" or "at") plus a noun. In this case, we might say this a stands for "in the manner of" or "with." It can be part of the answer to questions such as "What's it like?" "What kind is it?"

 

One example of this came up in this week's episode of La Ladra. It occurred in a rather banal exchange between Gina and her husband. He couldn't find his striped socks.

 

In English, we can say something is striped or it has stripes. In Italian, it's a bit different. We often use a

Come dove stanno i calzini righe?
What do you mean where are your striped socks?
Caption 3, La Ladra - Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 10 of 14

 

Potrebbe anche essere una tovaglia a quadretti bianchi e rossi, oppure bianchi e gialli o a grosse righe.
It could also be a red and white checked tablecloth, or else, white and yellow or with wide stripes.

Captions 4-5, Come preparare con creatività: una tavola per la campagna

 

In Italy, quaderni a quadretti (notebooks with grids or graph paper) are very popular. But in the U.S., unless you are using a grid for a specific purpose, like math or a making a chart, most notebooks are righe (lined). There doesn't even seem to be a standard translation for quadretti regarding paper. However, we asked readers to write in what they would call un quaderno a quadretti in English.

 

Update: Most of the people who have written in say that in English, they would call a quaderno a quadretti a "graph paper notebook." One person provided this interesting link.

 

Additional notes: Along with notebooks, we have notepads. The official word for this in Italian is taccuino but the more commonly-used term is a corruption of English: bloc-notes or even the pseudo-English block-notes. Make sure you pronounce the final e and s all'italiano! Let's remember that in Italian the adjective usually comes after the noun, and so notes is the kind of blocco (notebook or notepad for taking notes). A blocco is a group of similar items, so we use blocco or, when it's small, blocchetto for paper, for checks: blocchetto di assegni (checkbook).

 

In this lesson, we have talked about adjective equivalents. But there are adverb equivalents that use a, too, and we'll look at them in a future lesson.

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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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A Creative Italian Word for "Commuter"

Italian has a wonderful word for "commuter." It comes from the back and forth movement of a pendulum, and is, you guessed it: pendolare.

Pendolare è quella persona che prende il treno. -Prende il treno tutti i giorni.
A commuter is a person who takes the train. -He takes the train every day,
Caption 23, Serena: presenta Martina

 

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 detective stories.
Captions 36-37, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 2 Part 12

Pendolare is originally a verb having to do with the movement of a pendulum, or pendolo, but it is now commonly used to mean "commuter." Italy is a long, narrow penisola (peninsula) with mountains in the middle. Many people live in one place but work in another. Rather than actually moving, they become pendolari (commuters). Being a pendolare is tough, and often complicated, so if you listen to the news, you'll hear the word pendolare often. A pendolare may travel by car (in macchina), by bike (in bici) by bus (in pullman), by train (in treno), or by plane (in aereo). Note the preposition in ! But generally, when we think of pendolari, we imagine them on trains. Nowadays, people have phones (cellulari), laptops (portatili), or tablets (tablet) to occupy them while traveling by train, but it wasn't always so. People used to read libri (books), riviste (magazines), or giornali (newspapers). A certain kind of book was particularly popular. Il giallo. See the lesson about it!
 

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Three Ways to Crush It: pestare, schiacciare, frantumare

This week, Anna and Marika finish explaining how to make pesto, the delicious Ligurian pasta specialty.

 

In part 1, they talked about why pesto is called pesto.

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato.
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed.
Caption 68, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola -Il pesto genovese - Part 1 of 2

 

The cooks also use two other verbs that have to do with breaking something down into smaller pieces. Let's look at each of these three words to see when we use them, and what the differences are among them.

 

Let's start with the word that gives its name to the dish. Pestare is the verb: to crush, to mash, to pound. We carry out this action when tenderizing meat, or when stepping on someone's toes.

Oh, scusamit'ho pestato il piede.
Oh, sorry, I stepped on your foot.

 

Pestare is the action someone or something carries out in order to crush something. Except for when it's someone's toes, we might think of a repeated action, such as in making pesto the old-fashioned way. Just keep pounding to break the material down little by little.

 

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A relative of pestare is calpestare (to tromp on, to trample, to step on), specific to using one's feet. You might see a sign that says:

Non calpestare l'erba
Do not walk on the grass.  

 

In some cities, you really have to look where you put your feet.

E... camminando camminando, ciak! Che cosa ti vado a calpestare?
And... walking along, splat! What do I go and step on?
Un escremento canino! -Bleah! -Una cacca bella fresca fumante!
Canine excrement! -Yuck! -Nice fresh steaming poop!
Captions 21-22, Francesca e Marika: Gestualità 

 

Here we might think of the action more than the recipient of the action.

 

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Schiacciare also means to crush, to smash, or to mash, and here we can visualize the thing we are crushing being crushed.  

The classic example is lo sciaccianoce. The nutcracker. One rather violent move, and the thing is cracked or crushed.

You crush a clove of garlic. Lo schiacciIt's less rewarding when it's your finger being crushed.

Mi sono schiacciato il dito nella porta. Aia!
smashed my finger in the door. Ouch!

 

Think of something being flattened by a heavy weight.

 

We can also use schiacciare when pressing a button on a machine.

Schiaccia il bottone rosso per fermarlo (press down on the red button to stop it).

 

Schiacciare is used figuratively, too.

Allora, signora, Suo marito ha una personalità dominante che schiaccia la Sua da anni.
So, ma'am, your husband has a dominating personality which has been crushing yours for years.
Captions 4-5, Stai lontana da me: Rai Cinema - Part 4 of 17 

 

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Lastly, we have frantumare. Here, we can visualize a mirror breaking and shattering into pieces or frantumi (fragments, smithereens). 

In making olive oil, grindstones crush the olives with their pits.

L'oliva viene frantumata intera.
The olive gets crushed whole.
Caption 23, L'olio extravergine di oliva: Il frantoio

 

Anna and Marika use all three of these verbs in their videos about pesto, so check them out! As you replicate the recipe, try using them yourself!

Ora sto pestando questi pinoli (now I am pounding these pine nuts).
Devo fare attenzione a non pestare anche le dita (I have to be careful not to pound my fingers, as well).
Forse sono sufficientemente frantumati (maybe they're fragmented enough). 
Se faccio cadere il piatto per terra, si frantumerà! È di porcellana (if I drop this plate on the floor, it will break into pieces. It's porcelain).
L'aglio lo posso schiacciare con un batticarne (I can smash the garlic with a meat mallet). 
Devo stare attento a non schiacciarmi le dita (I have to be careful not to crush my fingers).

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