Italian language: Keep, Let Go, and Move On

Jan 19, 2020 83

It’s January 2020, a new year, a new beginning, a new era. This is the time of the year in which we make new resolutions and leave the past behind, so I thought it would be a good idea for some words that (thankfully) we left behind. I am talking about Italian words that were created during the Fascism regime when all foreign loan words were seen as a threat, so words were made up or translated to substitute all foreign words that had been part of the Italian language. Some just sound ridiculous today, others are still very common, and most Italians don’t even know they come from that time period. Let’s take a look. 

Let’s start with some really funny ones: names. Do you remember Ciorcil? No? He was one of the most famous British prime ministers. Yes, I am talking about Churchill, whose spelling was changed to fit the Italian spelling and pronunciation. And Vosintone? Nothing? How is that possible!? The US capital is named after him! Washington! And how can we forget the great musician Luigi Braccioforte. Just a little hint for you: braccio means “arm,” forte means “strong.” 

And the list is long: “panorama” became tuttochesivede, literally “all-you-can-see,” “sandwich” became traidue – between-two, “bar” became quisibeve – here-you-drink, “boy-scout” became giovane esploratore – young explorer. “Papillon” – “bow tie” – became cravattino which is “little tie, “smoking” became giacchetta da sera – little evening jacket, “pullover” became maglione, which is actually still used today to indicate a pullover. 

Sports and terms related to the sports world were translated into Italian as well. “Tennis” became pallacorda – ball-rope, “football” (or soccer in American English) became palla al calcio – ball to kick – which became calcio – kick – and it’s still used in modern Italian. “Rugby” became gioco della volata – game of the sprint – and gioco della palla ovale – game of the oval ball. “Hockey” became palla-rotelle – ball-wheels – for grass hockey and disco su ghiaccio – disk on ice – for ice hockey, whole “bob” became giodoslitta – drive-a-sleigh. “Basketball,” today known in Italy simply as basket, became palla al cesto – ball to the basket – and pallacanestro – ballbasket. You can still hear old people using the latter. “Volleyball” became pallavolo, which is a literal translation and it is still the common name, together with volley

Many many words were simply translated: “film” was pellicola, “garage” was rimessa, “stop” was alt, “buffet” was rinfresco, “chauffeur” – driver – was autista, “record” was primate, “hotel” was albergo. Others adapted: “dancing” was sala da danze – room for dancing, “dessert” was fine pasto – end of the meal, “toast” was (and still is) pane tostato – toasted bread, “bunker” was fossa di sabia – sand hole. Words which contained foreign countries or nationalities were changed: the Prince of Wales fabric which was tessuto principe di Galles was changed to simply tessuto principe or “prince fabric,” wrench which is “English key” – chiave inglese – in Italian was changed to chiavemorsa – vise-key, and the dish known as “Russian salad” – insalata russa – was changed to insalata tricolore – tricolor salad, in honor of the Italian flag. Others were completely made up instead like velivolo for “airplane,” and eja eja alalà  for “hip hip hurray” which in Italian is hip hip hurrà

Some of these words were changed to stay, others fell with the regime fell. We are not here to judge the linguistic changes, but to acknowledge them and keep only what worked and what was useful in the economy of the language, as usual, as we all should do with the past. Keep what worked, let go of the worse, and move on.

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