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False Italianisms


You say ‘pepperoni’, I understand ‘sweet peppers’. Alfresco, bimbo, bologna, bravura, confetti, dildo, gondola, gonzo, inferno, latte, pepperoni, politico, presto, stiletto, studio, tutti-frutti, vendetta.  These are only some of the false Italianisms which most English speakers believe to be purely Italian. They are created when genuine lexical borrowings from Italian are so reinterpreted by a recipient language, English in this case, that native speakers of Italian would not recognize them as part of their own lexical inventory and would neither understand nor use. The creation of false Italianisms yields to new insights into the covert prestige attributed to the supposed donor language and culture.

The phenomenon of Italianisms in the English language –a comprehensive account of which isprovided in the Dizionario di italianismi in francese, inglese, tedesco (DIFIT)– has already been described by Lepschy and Lepschy (1999a, 1999b), Iamartino (2001, 2002, 2003), Pinnavaia(2001), and Cartago (2009).

Drawing on Furiassi, who devised a typology of false Anglicisms, it is assumed that false Italianisms are not just a sub-group of Italianisms, but independent lexical units generated by specific word-formation processes, either morphological or semantic.

Although quantitatively limited – false Italianisms indeed constitute a very small portion of English lexis – the inventory is still to be considered symptomatic of the complex phenomenon of false Italianisms at large, which further confirms the influence of Italian on the English language and culture.

Being aware of the existence of false Italianisms on the part of English speakers would help avoid misunderstandings, such as ordering a pepperoni pizza and a latte in an Italian restaurant and being served a pizza with sweet peppers and plain hot milk.


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