Italian language: Dante's Words
- WTI Magazine #138 Apr 17, 2021
Since Dante’s Week was a few weeks ago, I’ve decided to pay him homage for a bit longer. The Accademia della Crusca has been posting a word a day from his masterpiece, The Devine Comedy, in honor of the 700th anniversary of his death; and I must say, some are quite unexpected. So I decided to give you a tour of some of the most interesting words and neologisms the Great Poet used.
Let’s start with some new verbs he invented. And he invented a lot! Let’s just say he got creative and basically started to ad “in” in front of words, adjectives, and adverbs in different combinations to create exactly the word he needed in that moment. It seems pretty basic and simple, but it was genius and worked perfectly. Like inverare, made up by the root vero, “true,” and means to make something true. Or inforsarsi, made up by the root forse, “maybe,” which means to be in doubt. And immegliarsi, composed by the root meglio, “better,” and means…well to become better; today it would be simply migliorarsi. And inmillarsi, made up by the word mille, “a thousand,” and it means to become a thousand, to multiply suddenly and incredibly.
There are also other words even more philosophical. Trasumanar an adjective that indicates something that transcends human, something unspeakable. Then there’s intuarsi and inmiarsi, they are both used to express the permeation of two beings: the first has the word tu, “you,” in it and refers to the permeation of my conscience into someone else; the latter has the word mi, “me,” that is the permeation of the someone else’s conscience into me.
But Dante was not just fancy words! He used some pretty nasty words as well. He used words like culo, “ass,” in his poem say something not very elevated at all: Avea del cul fatto trombetta (Canto XXI, 139), which basically means that the person he was talking about let a toot out their ass. Or the word merda, “shit.” Yup, the term appears for the first time there and Dante used it to refer to a person.
But I like to end the article on a better note, and I would like to point out something that the Accademia della Crusca reminded us on Italy’s birthday, March 17th. Italy is often called the Bel Paese, expression that is often used with irony by Italians, but with love by all those who came and fell for this country. Well, this expression comes from Dante and his poem; it was not used to refer to Italy, well, there was no Italy at the time, but it stuck around and it became Italy’s nickname.