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What do Renaissance Italian coins have to do with us?

Sometimes, while translating a video for Yabla, a word crops up that leaves us perplexed. It doesn't appear to be in a dictionary, and even if it is, it doesn't make enough sense to be able to translate it correctly. So we start researching it on our preferred search engine. We might find the answer and that's that, but sometimes we go down some interesting rabbit holes. So this week, we'd like to share what we learned, because it relates to some good-to-know euphemisms people use when talking about money. 



We're talking about the documentary series called L'Italia che piace (the Italy people like), which has recently focused on Novara, a city in northern Italy, not far from Milan. You will hear about its history in the video, but one thing gets mentioned only briefly, so we set out to learn more. 

Viene costruita dalla cittadinanza, con i soldi che vengono raccolti proprio con la tassa del sesino, la tassa sull'acquisto della carne.

It's built by the citizenry, with the money that is collected, actually, by way of the "sesino" tax, the tax on buying meat.

Captions 5-8, L'Italia che piace Territori - Part 9

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The documentary mentions the building of the dome on top of the basilica in the middle of the city. It ended up being paid for in a particular way. Citizens contributed voluntarily to the project, but there was also a special tax called l’arbitrio del sesino or l'imposta del sesino. We wondered, "What's a sesino?"


A little research revealed that un sesino is a particular coin. Why is it called sesino? We might be able to guess it has something to do with the number 6 — sei. And we would be right! With a little more searching, we found, on a numismatic website:


The name of the coin un sesino indicates that the coin is equal to 6 denari.


Along with the sesino, there were: la trillina (3 denari) and il quattrino (4 denari). These coins were used from the 14th to the 18th century in various cities.


It all starts to make sense, because whoever has lived in Italy has heard people use quattrino or quattrini to mean "money."

Se proprio vogliamo chiamarla debolezza... era un poco tirato nei quattrini, ecco.

If we really want to call it a weakness... he was a bit tight-fisted with money, that's it.

Captions 73-74, Il Commissario Manara S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 3

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In fact, in Renaissance times, un quattrino was a quarter of a fiorino in Florence. We often translate it as "a farthing." But unless you studied Italian history, you might not make that connection.


Still today, il denaro is another word for "money." Sometimes it's called il danaro. And in playing cards, denari is a suit in a Neapolitan deck of cards. 

Neapolitan deck of cards, photo courtesy Rex Pitts


We learn in the video that this particular sesino tax was on meat. On a website about Novara, we further learn that it was un'imposta per ogni libbra di carne non bovina acquistata in città (a tax on each pound of non-bovine meat purchased in the city).


So, in short, it would seem that people had to pay one sesino for every pound of meat that wasn't beef. This was to pay for the dome of the basilica. We do wonder why the tax was just meat that wasn't beef. That will remain for another day of research.


Note there are two spellings for libra: with one b or two. Did you ever wonder why the abbreviation for pound is "lb"? The English word "pound" comes from pondo meaning "body." A unit of measure in Roman times was "libra pondo," which meant "a pound by weight." The abbreviation "lb" is derived from the libra part of the expression.


There you have it. A little extra information, which, si spera (hopefully), will whet your appetite to watch the video!



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More expressions with caso

We have already talked about different meanings and uses of the noun caso (case, chance) — see this previous lesson. In the present lesson, we will further explore expressions using this super common and useful noun. 


Farci caso

In a different previous lesson devoted to noticing things in Italian, we briefly discussed the expression farci caso (to notice something / to make an issue of something). Although the different meanings are related, they are different enough to warrant translating them differently.

Non lo so, non ci ho fatto caso, mi dispiace.

I don't know. I didn't notice, I'm sorry.

Caption 41, Provaci ancora prof! S2E3 Dietro la porta - Part 7

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Non ci far caso, che ha avuto una giornata molto difficile.

Don't pay any attention to it, because he's had a very hard day.

Caption 28, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 3 S3 EP1: Ciao famiglia - Part 6

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For more examples and explanations, check out the lesson! There you will find a list of possible English translations. And let's keep in mind that the basic meaning of caso here is "case" (not "chance"). 


Guarda caso

Let's build on another expression we talked about in the other lesson: guarda caso, another nuanced expression with "caso." If we take it apart, it's sort of a command. "Look at what happened by chance." It can be inserted into a sentence just about anywhere, as is. 



Here are some examples from recent videos to demonstrate. Guarda caso very often has the connotation of a coincidence that isn't really a coincidence. Something looks like it happened by chance, but was likely planned. 


A detective is interviewing a suspect, putting two and two together.

Anche perché chi ha ucciso a [sic] Ramaglia è arrivato in cortile con una motocicletta, e guarda caso tu c'hai una moto.

Also because whoever killed Ramaglia arrived in the courtyard on a motorcycle, and what a coincidence, you have a motorcycle.

Captions 79-81, I Bastardi di Pizzofalcone EP2 Rabbia - Part 10

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All'appello mancano quattro abiti da sposa. Guarda caso, i più preziosi.

At the count, four wedding dresses are missing. As chance would have it, the most costly ones.

At the count, four wedding dresses are missing. What a coincidence, the most costly ones.

Captions 44-45, La Ladra EP. 2 - Viva le spose - Part 13

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This expression was once two words, but at some point in history, the two words became one, as happens with many compound words. Casomai is a rather intriguing expression. The two words are caso (chance) and mai (never, ever). Italian synonyms might be: nel caso che; semmai; eventualmente.


The literal translation is "chance ever." That's very unhelpful and makes no sense. But what the expression actually means is something like "if appropriate," "if at all," or "if anything." "in the event that." We could construe the Italian to mean "if there is ever the chance," and some additional translations could be: "if the situation/case comes up," "if the situation calls for it," "if circumstances permit," "if need be," and sometimes, "just in case." Translating it is tricky, and somewhat subjective, but if you hear it enough and start using it yourself, you'll find it very handy without thinking about what it would be in English. 


And, what's more, Casomai is user-friendly, as it's one of those expressions we can throw in wherever we want, without worrying about the grammar. We could include it in the category of expressions such as magari, or mi sa that can stand alone at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence. 

Va be', noi casomai torniamo un altro giorno, eh.

OK, if appropriate, we'll come back another day, huh.

Caption 57, Sei mai stata sulla Luna? film - Part 10

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Eh, perché ero qua non posso dirglielo. Casomai dovrebbe essere Lei a dirmi che cosa ci faceva qua.

Uh, the reason I was here, I can't tell you. If anything, you're the one who should tell me what you were doing here.

Captions 4-5, Provaci ancora prof! S1E1 - Il regalo di Babbo Natale - Part 16

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Dopo, casomai... -Yeah. Dopo, magari fra...

Later, if need be. -Yeah. Later, maybe in a...

Captions 47-48, Provaci ancora prof! S1E3 - Una piccola bestia ferita - Part 15

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Tu non cerchi nessuno. Casomai la polizia.

You're not going to look for anyone. If anyone does, it'll be the police.

Caption 10, Provaci ancora prof! S1E1 - Il regalo di Babbo Natale - Part 11

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We hope this lesson has shed light on some expressions using caso (chance). Let us know if you have questions or comments. You can write to us a or write a comment in the comment section of any video. 


Combining the preposition di with a definite article

The preposition di (of) is one of the most common simple prepositions. It's used to show possession, but also means, origin, manner, quantity. Take a look at the WordReference entry to get an idea.


The simple preposition di can be combined with an article to form what is called una preposizione articolata. In doing this, it is transformed a bit, so this is just something we need to learn. Marika has a video series about the prepositions, and begins with the common preposition di. In this lesson we will set out to put things in a visual context with a list of how di can combine with definite articles, and we'll give you some examples from Yabla videos, so you can hear them in context.



Here is how we combine the preposition di with the various definite articles (that all mean "the"): The main thing to notice is that the i in di is transformed in e.

di + il = del

di + lo = dello

di + l’ = dell’

di + la = della

di + i = dei

di + gli = degli

di + le = delle



Let's look at each combination in context:

Del is the combination of the preposition di and the definite article il.

It will usually precede a masculine noun or the adjective that describes it.

In tutte le città del mondo ci sono ristoranti italiani.

In all the cities of the world, there are Italian restaurants.

Caption 8, Adriano Pizzeria Pinocchio - Part 1

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In the following example, note that before the noun there is an adjective, famoso (famous) which also agrees with the masculine noun. 

Pinocchio è il protagonista del famoso romanzo dell'autore Collodi:

Pinocchio is the main character of the famous novel by the author Collodi:

Caption 29, Adriano Pizzeria Pinocchio - Part 1

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Dello is the combination of the preposition di and the masculine singular definite article lo. Note that there are two L's!

Note that there is another example of dello in the title of the episode. Translated it would be: The shark's gold.

Chi ha aggiustato la porta dello spogliatoio?

Who fixed the door of the locker room?

Caption 30, La Ladra Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 13

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In the following example, even though we say il colore, not lo colore,  we do use di plus the definite article lo and it becomes dello. This is because before the noun, we have the adjective stesso which begins with an s + the consonant t. So we need the definite article lo. Like when we say: È lo stesso (It's all the same). That's something to remember. Later in this lesson, we will look at a similar construction with a feminine noun.

E una bella borsa dello stesso colore.

And a nice handbag of the same color.

Caption 37, Corso di italiano con Daniela I colori - Part 3

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Dell' is the combination of the preposition di and the singular masculine (and in some cases feminine) definite article l'.

Le pulizie della casa, dell'appartamento si chiamano anche "faccende domestiche" oppure "pulizie casalinghe".

The cleaning of the house, of the apartment, is also called "housework" or "household cleaning."

Captions 32-33, Marika spiega Le pulizie di primavera - Part 1

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Sometimes this same construction turns out to be feminine!  It's a truncated version of della, which we'll look at next.This can be a headache for learners:

Io mi occupo della contabilità dell'azienda.

I take care of the accounts of the business.

Caption 17, Il Commissario Manara S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 3

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Della is the combination of the preposition di and the feminine singular definite article la. Just like dello, we double the L.

La grande tragedia della guerra lascia memorie che non si cancellano.

The great tragedy of the war leaves memories that don't get erased.

Caption 43, L'arte della cucina Terre d'Acqua - Part 5

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Now let's move on to di plus a plural definite article.

Dei is the combination of the preposition di and the plural masculine definite article i.

Da quando in qua un uomo si deve occupare dei neonati?

Since when should a man have to take care of [the] newborns?

Caption 16, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 12

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Note that Italian uses the definite article, where in English, none is necessary. This is common and takes some effort in getting used to it.


In the next example, we have the combined preposition followed by the possessive pronoun miei (the plural masculine form of mio).  Here too, the article is there (attached to di = dei ).

È una ricetta dei miei nonni che coltivavano le arance di Sicilia.

It's a recipe from my grandparents, who cultivated Sicilian oranges.

Caption 12, Adriano L'arancello di Marina

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Degli is the combination of the preposition di and the plural masculine definite article gli.

Degli is hard to pronounce for lots of folks. Here, too, the definite article is included, while English leaves it out.

Pensate che il novanta percento degli italiani beve caffè quotidianamente.

Just think that ninety percent of Italians drink coffee on a daily basis.

Caption 7, Adriano Il caffè

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Delle is the combination of the preposition di and the plural feminine definite article le.

Sarà la forma delle note a stabilire qual è la durata dei suoni,

It's the shape of the notes that determines the duration of the sounds,

Caption 37, A scuola di musica con Alessio - Part 3

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If you look at the transcript of just about any video, you will be able to pick out several examples of these preposizioni articolate. Look for common phrases and start repeating them, getting them into your repertoire.  


For other preposizioni articolate, check out:

Combining the preposition a with a definite article

Combining the preposition in with a definite article


Meanwhile, if you have any questions or doubts, write to us at

Another Way to Notice Something (or Not), in Italian

In a previous lesson, we discussed a couple of ways to talk about noticing things, or not. Each expression or verb that says roughly the same thing comes with its particular grammatical feature and each has nuances that can determine when people use one or the other.


The easiest and most direct way to notice things is with the transitive verb notare.


E Lei non ha notato niente di strano?

And you didn't notice anything strange?

Caption 18, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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Accorgersi (to notice) is reflexive and comes with its grammatical baggage especially when using it in the present perfect (a very common way to use it). Accorgesene (to notice it) adds the complication of the ne particle. So it gets complicated, especially for beginners.


Abbiamo parcheggiato in divieto di sosta,

We parked in a no parking zone,

e io purtroppo non me ne sono accorto.

and I, unfortunately, didn't realize it.

Captions 12-13, Francesca - alla guida

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Rendersi conto

In a previous lesson we also talked about rendersi conto or rendersene conto as a way to realize something. It's a bit deeper than just noticing. It's to become aware of the significance of an oberservation. There are relevant discussions of accorgersi vs rendersi conto, on WordReference so check it out if you want to know more.


E allora ripensando a quella mattina, io mi sono resa conto

And so thinking back to that morning, I realized

che Lei entrò nello studio soltanto pochi secondi dopo di noi.

that you entered the study just a few seconds after us.

Captions 54-55, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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Farci caso or fare caso di qualcosa

Here's another modo di dire that Italians use quite a bit in conversation, especially when they fail to notice something or they want to fail to notice something on purpose, that is, to ignore something.


This expression is not reflexive so that's one point in its favor (on the easy-to-use scale), but we do have to contend with the particle ci which in this case stands for "about it" or "to it".


Let's look at the make up of this expression. Basically we have the verb fare (to make, to do) and the noun caso (case) and then we have ci which in this case stands for "about it" or "to it," or just  "it."  We can think of farci caso as "making a case out of something," "making an issue of something," "giving something importance." 


And in some cases, that's what it means.


Se proprio vogliamo chiamarla debolezza...

If we really want to call it a weakness...

era un poco tirato nei quattrini, ecco.

he was a bit tight-fisted with money, that's it.

Ma io non c'ho mai fatto caso.

But I never made an issue of it.

Captions 73-75, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne

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But before making an issue of something, we notice it, we pay attention to it. And that's one common way it's used in everyday conversation. Here's a little scene from Commissario Manara between Sardi and her husband, Toscani.


Io da ieri sera sto ancora aspettando i pannolini, grazie.

I've been waiting since last night for the diapers, thank you.

-Sardi, io da ieri sera, non so se ci hai fatto caso,

-Sardi, since last night, I don't know if you noticed,

non sono rientrato neanche a casa.

I haven't even gone home.

Ci hai fatto caso, spero, sì?

You noticed, I hope, didn't you?

-Come non c'ho fatto caso?

-What do think, that I didn't notice?

Captions 6-10, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP6 - Sotto tiro

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Here, we should keep in mind that in English we don't add an object pronoun or preposition, but in Italian, that's what the c' stands for, and is actually ci.


We should mention that another way to use this expression is when you are telling someone not to notice something, not to make an issue out of something. In other words, to ignore something. This can come up, for instance, when you hear someone saying bad things about you. A friend will say:

Non ci far caso. Non farci caso.

Don't pay attention to that. Ignore it.


If you watch Commissario Manara, you know that the coroner, Ginevra, has a personal way of talking about the dead people she examines. Someone is explaining that fact to a newcomer. The speaker is using the third person singular imperative which is used to address someone formally.


Non ci faccia caso, è fatta così.

Don't mind her, that's how she is.

Caption 13, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola

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Practically speaking

A really handy phrase to learn right now is Non c'ho fatto caso (don't forget that the c is pronounced like "ch," the h is silent, there's a nice double t in fatto, and the in caso sounds like z):

Non c'ho fatto caso. 

I didn't notice.

I didn't see that.

I didn't notice that.

I didn't pay attention to it.

It didn't jump out at me.

It didn't catch my eye.