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Working Things Out with Sistemare

In a recent segment of Meraviglie, Alberto Angela uses a verb that looks familiar: sistemare. It must have something to do with "system," right?

 

The noun il sistema certainly exists, and is a true cognate of "the system" in English.

 

E allora con un ingegnoso sistema di raccolta delle acque,

And so with an ingenious system for collecting water,

riuscì a riempire ben sette cisterne che sono sparsi [sparse] per tutto il territorio.

he managed to fill a good seven cisterns that are scattered around the whole area.

Captions 36-37, In giro per l'Italia - Asciano - S. Giuliano Terme: Villa Bosniascki

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A detail to remember is that although it has a typically feminine ending, sistema is a masculine noun. In English, too, “system” has any number of connotations.

 

So the noun sistema is fairly straightforward, but English doesn't really have a corresponding verb to go with sistemare. Sistemare might even fall into the category of untranslatable Italian verbs, although it's an easy-to-figure-out untranslatable verb. Sistemare is a general, catch-all type of verb that can mean any number of things, depending on the context. 

 

When Alberto Angela tells us the fascinating story of a huge underground cistern in the city of Matera, what does he mean by sistemare? Good question.

 

Quando si è sistemata la piazza nel millenovecentonovantuno…

When the piazza was renovated in nineteen twenty-one…

Caption 12, Meraviglie - Ep. 1 - Part 15

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We see from the translation that the piazza was renovated, and we get this from the context of the documentary itself. But sistemare could also have referred to it being  "neatened up," "cleaned up," "put in order," "put to rights."

 

When you want to fix something up, make improvements, put things right, make minor repairs, put things in a certain place, make preparations, or even get your pet ready for the night, sistemare is a good verb.

 

In the following examples from Yabla videos, sistemare is used to mean "to work out," "to set up," and "to fix up."

 

Note that in the first example, the reflexive form sistemarsi is used.

 

Mi dispiace molto, Marika, e spero che tutto si sistemerà al più presto.

I'm really sorry, Marika. And I hope everything will work out as soon as possible.

Caption 41, Italiano commerciale - Difficoltà con colleghi e contratti

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Valter arrivava sempre prima per sistemare l'attrezzatura per gli allievi.

Valter always came early to set up the equipment for the students.

Caption 52, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP5 - Mondo sommerso

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Adesso hai quest'impressione perché lo vedi così tutto in disordine,

Now you have that impression because you're seeing it all messy,

quando sarà sistemato vedrai...

when it's fixed up, you'll see...

Captions 35-36, Un medico in famiglia - S1 EP1 - Casa nuova

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One general way of thinking about the verb sistemare is with "to take care of". 

You took care of an unpaid bill? L'hai sistemato. You took care of it.
Your plumber fixed that leaky faucet? L'ha sistemato. He took care of it. He fixed it.
You wrote a draft of an article? Lo devi ancora sistemare. You still have to fine-tune it.

 

We can also turn sistemare into a noun: una sistemata. In English, we might use a gerund for this, as in the first example below. 

You don't really want to give your kitchen a thorough cleaning at the moment, but you want it to look nice. Ci dai una sistemata (you give it a neatening up).
You ask your hairdresser, Mi dai una sistemata ai capelli (Will you give me a little trim)?

 

With the noun sistemata, we often use the verb dare (to give), which can also be used reflexively.

Dopo il viaggio, mi sono data una sistemata prima di presentarmi agli suoceri (after the trip I freshened up before meeting my in-laws/I gave myself a freshening up).

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Practice:

As you go through your day, as you take care of one problem after another, try using sistemare when you have succeeded, or when you haven't yet. Maybe you will even have fun taking care of these problems!

L'ho sistemato! Menomale. (I took care of that. Whew!)

Questo lo devo sistemare (I have to take care of this).

 

Ask someone else to help you take care of something — something that needs fixing, or a situation that needs resolving.

Me lo puoi sistemare (can you take care of this for me)?

Slow down you're driving too loud

The instrument we know as the piano is called il pianoforte in Italian. What made it special when it was invented was that it could be played both piano (softly) and forte (loudly). Many of us are familiar with these musical terms, but actually, forte and piano are ordinary words (used as both adjectives and adverbs) and much of the time have nothing to do with music.

Francesca is learning to drive, and her instructor is telling her how to use the clutch:
 

Piano piano, lentamente.

Slow, slow, slowly.

Caption 36, Francesca - alla guida - Part 2

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If she had taken off too fast, her instructor might have said:
 
Rallenta, stai andando troppo forte!
Slow down, you are going too fast!
 
So just as piano can mean lentamente (slowly), forte is often used to mean veloce (fast). In fact, forte basically means “strong” or “loud.” It can be used to express a strong, positive emotion like, when Lele, upon seeing his new home for the first time, exclaims:
 

Forte! C'è il giardino con l'erba e tutto. -Ti piace?

Cool! There's a garden with a lawn and everything. -You like it?

Caption 13, Un medico in famiglia - s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova - Part 3

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Piano can mean “delicately,” “quietly,” or “slowly,” and it’s not always clear which meaning is intended. On the beach at Maratea, three friends are singing a famous Italian song.
 

Lasciatemi cantare una canzone piano piano

Let me sing a song slowly, slowly [or: softly, softly]

Caption 12, Amiche - È tempo di cantare

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Only the songwriter knows for sure!
 
“Level” is a completely different meaning of piano. In piano refers to level ground. Un piano is something level, like the story of a building. Lele tattles on his neighbor before leaving his old apartment for good:
 

La moglie di Andrea si bacia in macchina con l'avvocato del quinto piano.

Andrea's wife kisses the lawyer from the fifth floor in the car.

Caption 21, Un medico in famiglia - s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova - Part 2

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Un piano is also a flat surface to work on. In the kitchen you will need a piano di lavoro (countertop) and a piano di cottura (stovetop). Then you will set the table with two kinds of plates that take their names from their shapes: piano (flat) and fondo (deep).
 

Cominciamo con i piatti: questo è un piatto piano. Poi, c'è il piatto fondo...

Let's begin with the plates, this is a flat plate [dinner plate]. Then, there's the soup plate...

Captions 7-8, Marika spiega - Le pentole e le posate

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Piani (levels) can have to do with depth, too. When we zoom in with a camera, we will be getting a primo piano (close-up). We can also use piano to discuss priorities, like when Lara is trying to get Commissario Manara to focus on the job at hand:
 

Le questioni personali vanno messe in secondo piano.

Personal matters should take second place [literally, put in the background].

Caption 60, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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And if that weren’t enough, un piano is also “a plan.”
 
Tranquilli, ho un piano.
Don't worry, I have a plan.
 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

So if you are playing the piano (pianoforte), talking too loud (troppo forte) or too soft (troppo piano), chopping vegetables on the counter (piano di lavoro), setting the table for dinner (piatti piani), filming a close-up (primo piano) of your cat, talking on a philosophical level (piano filosofico) with your friend, cycling on a flat road (in piano) and going too fast (troppo forte) or too slow (troppo piano) for your companion; if you have a plan (un piano), or even if you just live on the next floor up (al piano di sopra) in an apartment building, then these words are for you.
 
Learning tip: To get a more complete sense of the uses and nuances of piano and forte, go to an online dictionary like wordreference and check out the many examples. Whenever you can, reinforce your vocabulary skills by clicking on the green “Review Vocabulary” button below the video thumbnail.
Vocabulary

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