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Splatter, tuxedo, tight, golf. Attenzione al mutamento semantico!

Pensate un attimo a quante parole inglesi utilizzate ogni giorno. Se avete difficoltà, pensate ad internet, ed il gioco è fatto: computer, account, e-mail, blog, chat, cookie, smartphone, desktop, file, floppy, PDF, scanner, Word. E poi ancora: killer, snob, business, punk, rock, jeans, outing, mobbing, hacker, overdose, shampoo. Ma fermiamoci qui, il concetto è chiaro.

Insomma, scommetto che neanche il più estremista dei puristi riuscirebbe a fare a meno di certi anglicismi.

Secondo alcuni si tratta di termini che si sono andati illegittimamente ad infiltrare nella nostra parlata, secondo altri sono semplicemente andati ad arricchire il nostro vocabolario.

Ad ogni modo, l’utilizzo di parole inglesi è un fenomeno divagante e pieno di sorprese. ‘Se c’è una cosa che non sopporto, sono i film splatter‘, ‘Preferisco i boxer agli slip‘, ‘Giochiamo a flipper!’. Tutte frasi normali, che non desterebbero alcun dubbio. Se non fosse per il fatto che, in verità, splatter, in inglese, significa schizzo, il boxer non è un paio di mutande ma un pugile, e flipper significa pinna. Per non parlare del fatto che lo smoking non è affatto un completo elegante maschile (che sarebbe invece il tuxedo), ma un qualsiasi cibo affumicato. Dunque, affermare ingenuamente e con una certa baldanza: ‘I’m wearing my brand new smoking suit’ verrebbe inteso dal parlante nativo come una cosa del tipo: ‘Indosso il mio completo affumicato, nuovo di zecca’. Facile immaginare la reazione del madrelingua anglofono.

Un effetto simile avrebbe la frase: ‘Ho comprato un tight per questa occasione’, che verrebbe inteso come: ‘Ho comprato un paio di collant per questa occasione’, un’affermazione che potrebbe suscitare molta ilarità, dato che il tight, inteso all’italiana, è un indumento squisitamente maschile…

Il golf , poi, non è affatto un maglione ma uno sport, così come lo scotch non è il nastro adesivo, ma una bevanda tipicamente scozzese, non adatta ai bambini.

Si tratta di un fenomeno che in linguistica viene definito come ‘mutamento semantico’. Fin qui nulla di strano, è un meccanismo che avviene continuamente, in ogni lingua, da molto tempo. Interessante sarebbe però capirne i motivi, così come sarebbe importante conoscere il doppio significato degli anglicismi, specialmente quando li utilizziamo con un interlocutore di madrelingua inglese, giusto per evitare piccoli e grandi fraintendimenti, potenzialmente molto imbarazzanti!

a cura di Teti Musmeci


Language and Reality

 Thought and language are strictly connected,  and they deeply influence each other. As Wilhelm von Humbdolt[1] wrote, language is the basic condition of all intellective activities, it is «the formative organ of thought»[2].

Language forges our life, memories, associations, mental maps. It is the force de intercorse[3], the condition which allows us to learn new languages and to get to know different people and different ways of interpreting reality. Hence, the interest in writing  about the boundless linguistic universe, cluttered with enigmas and splendors.

Studying a population’s language,  not only means investigating the culture and the way of thinking of a limited portion of people, but it means understanding the human race’s nature from a broad perspective, exploring its less manifest aspects.

Understanding human beings means understanding the language, and vice versa. The diversity of languages is not a diversity of signs and sounds but a diversity of views of the world[4]. Each language, indeed, in some measure arranges the world in its own way, becoming the mediator between reality and our view of reality.[5]

Snow, for instance, is not the same to everyone. Or rather, it does not have a single meaning. Franz Boas[6], one of the founders of
anthropology in the United States, got interested in the matter of how individuals living in the far north, surrounded by ice and snow, perceived the world differently.

He noticed that in Inuktitut[7], the language spoken by the Esquimos, the snow is called in various ways. As Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf wrote:

We have the same word for falling snow, snow on the ground, snow hard packed like ice, slushy snow, wind-driven snow. To an Eskimo, this al-inclusive word would be almost unthinkable…[8]

This means that when a population lives in the Northern latitude, mainly surrounded by permanent ice and snow, it will inevitably perceive as important the distinction between certain entities which for other populations are nothing more than different types of the same thing: snow.

As Antonio Gramsci  wrote, language is to be understood as an element of culture, constituting an integral conception of the world.[1] In English, the term wood can refer either to the material, to the forest,or to the firewood; something similar happens in French: bois (wood), just like in English, means three manifestations of the same ‘essence’. Whereas the equivalent Italian term can be translated in three ways: legno, legna, and bosco.

Inversely, for an Italian speaker, the substance composing his own body and the food canned in jelly are the same thing: carne; whereas for an English or French speaker, they are two different things: the eatable meat, viande, and chair, flesh. It would be peculiar, as well as macabre, if you were asked for a canned flesh instead of a canned meat.

Therefore, in relativistic terms, language is the reflection of the perception of a certain reality and, inversely, language itself influences the way we know the world.[9].



[1] Potsdam 1767 – Tegel, Berlin, 1835.


[3] Ferdinand de Saussure

[4] Trabant, Juergen. “How relativistic are Humboldts ‘Weltansichten’?” 2000

[5] Edoardo Lombardi Vallauri, La linguistica. In pratica.

[6] 1858.


[8] Whorf, Bejamin Lee. 1949. “Science an Linguistics” Reprinted in Carroll 1956

[9] «Hypothesis Saphir-Whorf»

From North to South. How Many Italies?

150 years have passed since Italy’s unification, but the positive image of the unity is certainly not without its darker corners. The country faces several challenges and opportunities. Moreover, many of these challenges and opportunities are both framed and manifested geographically. From the persistence of ‘la questione Meridionale‘ to a politics ‘dopo Berlusconi’ (after Berlusconi), geography figures prominently in the past, present and future of Italy. Through a tour of Italy’s social, economic and political geographies, the realities and myths behind Italian “unification” are explored and framed as ongoing, if not necessary, tensions between local, regional, national and global interests and processes. Whether or not and how such forces are unique to Italy is open to debate, as is the notion of a truly unified Italy, or any other country for that matter. What is clear is that the ways in which Italy and Italians respond to and mediate contemporary social, economic and political forces will serve to reshape and re-unify the country in new and important ways that are quite distinct from the past.

What does it mean?

  • Terroni

“The word ‘terrone’ is an offensive term used by people in northern Italy in order to describe those from southern Italy… etymologically it is tied to the term ‘terra (dirt, land)…[thus] it is often associated with that type of person who is ignorant, uneducated, lazy, unwilling to work, rude, and of poor hygiene… [indeed] an Italian court judged that it is a derogatory an offensive term [which carries legal consequences when used to insult a person]” 

  • Polentoni

“Polentone’ is an offensive term used by people in southern Italy in order to describe those from northern Italy. With an etymology tied to the term ‘polenta (cornmeal). Not dissimilar to terrone, polentone is often associate with that type of person who is ignorant, uneducated, and of poor hygiene usually suffering of pellagra, a vitamin B3 deficiency.”


Pino Aprile, Terroni. All That Has Been Done To Ensure That The Italians of The South Became “Southerners”*

This book  is a well-documented, courageous description of what the Italians did to themselves and why 150 years after the Unification of Italy the differences between the North and the South are even more accentuated. This inequality has left an indelible mark. Those of us who believe that this was due to a purely geographical factor must now reconsider this notion, along with those who hold the incorrect belief that the South of Italy is the poorer and more backward part of our country. What were the real factors that created this diversity? With what awareness did they perpetrate their own ideals in order to gain more profit? Who rendered a part of our society so submissive and often fearful?

This is a work that analyzes the sociopolitical changes of a nation, and that is not afraid to unveil all of those uncomfortable truths that even the history books have so often refused to print.

Lorenzo Del Boca, Polentoni. How And Why The North Was Betrayed

“Italy today is paying the price for the accepted terms of payment in the hasty construction of the unified state. The result was a nation put together hurriedly and with an imposed institutional framework that it borrowed from France, which had to its credit however, centuries worth of historical background as a unified state.”

Lorenzo Del Boca makes his contribution to the copious amount of literature which flood the shelves of our book stores on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Unity of Italy.

After Indietro Savoia! and Maledetti Savoia, which are the foundation of his personal historical reconstruction of the Risorgimento, the journalist has released Polentoni in which he concentrates his research on that part of Italy that – according to him – benefited the least from the Unification: the North.

*The book Terroni. All That Has Been Done To Ensure That The Italians of The South Became “Southerners” has recently been translated into English thanks to funding provided by ILICA.


From North to South, with Beauty






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.


  • CLICK and view the most common false Italianisms:






Italian Stereotypes. True or False?

Pizza Pasta e Mandolino

Spaghetti, mafia, musical accent, gestures, romantic, loud, fashion, chaos – these are all words often used to describe Italians and are in fact short definition of italianity. But are these stereotypes true? In this article I will try to give you some insight into the Italian soul and clarify some common misunderstandings that foreigners have about us. Some of  the stereotypes are actually true, but being Italian takes a lot more than that. And Italy is a wonderful country that is well worth a visit – you may like it or not, but you will definitely be surprised!


1. Stereotype: Italians love pasta and they eat it everyday. Spaghetti and pasta in general are sacred.

Is it true?: TRUE! (mostly)
Additional information: Italians do eat pasta everyday. Unless it’s risotto.

2. Stereotype: Italians have amazing coffee culture, exemplified by Starbucks.

Is it true?: FALSE (but the coffee is still very very GOOD)
Additional information: Starbucks is NOTHING like Italian coffee.

3. Stereotype: Pizza was invented in Italy.
Additional information: Babylonians, Israelites, Egyptians, Armenians, Greeks and Romans, and other ancient cultures ate flat, unleavened bread cooked in mud ovens. The Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians were eating the bread topped with olive oil and native spices (what is today called focaccia). But Italy’s version of the dish, especially from Naples, is the one we are familiar with – with tomato, cheese, and other toppings and seasonings. Supposedly, this pizza was first created by the baker Raffaele Esposito in Naples. His creation was immediately a favorite, and Esposito was called to make a pizza for the visit of King Umberto and Queen Margherita of Italy in 1889.

4. Stereotype: Italians are very fashionable.

Is it true?: TRUE
Additional information: Indeed. In general, you won’t ever see an Italian wearing sporting short pants combined with long socks: it’s simply against their fashion rules.

5. Stereotype: Italian people often say: “Mamma mia!” “Vaffanculo!” 
Is it true?: TRUE (mostly)
Additional information: Italian people really do say these things, quite often.

6. Stereotype: All Italian girls look smoking hot, as if the steped straight out of the Vogue and Vanity Fair advertisements.

Is it true?: FALSE (mostly)
Additional information: There are definitely some attractive girls, but no more or no less than anywhere else in the world.

7. Stereotype: Italian is just like French.
Is it true?: FALSE
Additional information: Not at all. They’re both neo-latin languages, but they are very different. You cannot improvise a conversation in French if you haven’t studied it.

8.  Stereotype: Mafia is real and dangerous.

Is it true?: TRUE
Additional information: The Mafia is real. We are not proud of it but it does exists, especially in the South and the island of Sicily. Obviously, not every Italian is a Mafioso and most will feel offended and insulted if you use the term, even when if you mean it as a joke.

9. Stereotype: Italians are very romantic.

Is it true?: TRUE (mostly)
Additional information: Italians do enjoy romance and maybe the stereotype of the Italian romantic lover is not completely dead. An Italian guy will never let a girl go home unescorted. Also, the macho ideal is still alive and well in Italian culture.

10. Steropype: Italians don’t speak foreign languages.

Is it true?: Generally TRUE

Additional indormation: Italian/French/Spanish people don’t speak English well because their English education is bad.