Last year’s Italian entry to the Eurovision Song Contest was the brilliant song L’Essenziale by Marco Mengoni, which unlike British entries, was actually all over the radio before and after the event. In the chorus, he seems to sing the phrase “…che appartengono anche a te.” This is in fact what the online lyrics pages seem to suggest he says. However, listening carefully, he seems to be saying “che appartengono nonche’ a te.” Vaguely knowing that “nonche” might be an actual word, I looked it up, and, indeed, found it.
If there is one word that I could call quintessentially Italian, surely there are few candidates to rival the ubiquitious ‘allora’. This word, which your stereotypical Italian seems to say after every few words, can correspond to the English words ‘so’, ‘well’, ‘now then’, or ‘right now’.
I remember being confused the first time I heard an Italian talk about his ‘paese’, having assumed that he was talking about Italy but gradually realising he was only really referring to his home village. What does this word actually mean?
The BBC has recently been broadcasting the Italian police dramas Il Commissario Montalbano and Il Commissario De Luca. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Montalbano, though this post isn’t about him. Instead, I’d like to focus on a part of speech that sometimes crops up in these shows, and indeed many others. Even now and then, the protagonist will find himself talking to a new acquaintance (yes, usually a woman) and she will say to him the enigmatic phrase “Diamoci del tu.” Literally, this means “Let’s give each other ‘you’.” The English subtitles translate this phrase as the slightly bland “Let’s talk less formally.”
Most languages have some sort of expression to say “good luck”. Thinking about its actual meaning for a moment, what these expressions are all about is wishing success to someone who may be about to do something in which there may be actual danger or simply the possibility of failure or embarrassment. So we say good luck before an exam, an interview, a big project, moving house, etc. You don’t typically say good luck if someone is taking a trip down to the supermarket, unless, for instance, the roads are blocked or the item they really want to buy could well be out of stock.
In English, we typically use the word ‘Romans’ to refer to the inhabitants of the ancient city of Rome and the citizens of the Roman Empire. It feels a little strange to use the word to refer to the modern-day inhabitants of the Italian capital. We’d probably say something on the lines of “He’s from Rome,” or “It’s a style seen in Rome.”
The phrase ‘fare la bella figura’ is commonly used to describe the supposed (often true, though stereotypes are unfair) Italian preoccupation with keeping up appearances. It translates literally as ‘making a beautiful figure’ or more accurately as ‘making a good impression’. It is not, as is often assumed, simply to do with how you dress, or just looking good. It is also about how you behave and the kind of impression you leave on other people, particularly in public. The last thing you want to do is to ‘fare la brutta figura’, or ‘make an ugly figure’. In English, we’d translate this as ‘making a bad impression’.