We The Italians | Italian language: Don’t despair, you already know Italian…almost

Italian language: Don’t despair, you already know Italian…almost

Italian language: Don’t despair, you already know Italian…almost

  • WTI Magazine #119 Sep 15, 2019
  • 47

Today I am going to cheat a little bit. I am not in fact going to talk about Italian words specifically, but about Italian words that became completely part of the English vocabulary. Let’s begin by saying that as all loanwords, they are not fully used properly, as the Italian grammar and meaning would require, but hey, that’s just the way it is. So, if you are an Italian abroad and you here some English speaker saying Italian words wrong, don’t get upset, they are saying the English version. And if you are an English speaker, well, cheer up, just with a little tweak you’ll already know a good amount of Italian words without even opening a dictionary.  Let’s take a look. 

Let’s begin with food because…actually for no reason in particular, but food is always a good idea. 

Cappuccino and espresso. Easy peasy, right? Two straight up Italian words that you probably use everyday. The only difference is in the plural because Italian and English make the plural form of a noun in different ways. Also, espresso is not really used when ordering in Italian, because when you order a regular coffee in Italy, that’s what you get.  Latte. I am so glad Starbucks decided to use “latte” as a name for its drinks, but in Italian latte simply means “milk” and if you want the same drink you’ll have to order a caffélatte – coffee and milk. Just to let you know the “venti” size is called that way because it’s 20 oz. and venti means twenty in Italian. 

Al dente. That’s exactly the expression used in Italian to describe when the pasta is cooked but still has a bite to it. But here’s where English goes its own way, because that’s the only way Italian uses this expression. You may find it for rice, but very rarely. It’s only for pasta. Panini. That’s another word you probably frequently hear. It’s correct Italian if you are ordering more than one, while if you are ordering one it is simply panino with the “o.” Usually, it is made with a single bread roll cut the long way and stuffed with some kind of cured meat. The same is for zucchini and broccoli, two Italian words but plural, so in Italian it would be wrong to say you want one zucchini. Al fresco. It is indeed an Italian word, but I will let you eat al fresco. Why? Well, in Italian, it is an expression to refer to jail. To indicate the English “al fresco,” you might want to say fuori – out – or all’aperto – outside. 

Let’s move away from food now. Let’s talk about concerts. After a stunning live performance of a singer or band it’s customary to yell “bravo” in English. In Italian, it is used to say “good job” but the real big difference is that bravo with “o”  at the end is used only when referring to one person and only in the case that person is a male. When referring to many people in fact you should use bravi, when speaking to one woman brava and to many women brave. 

Studio. That is an Italian word, but it only refers to the room of the house that is used as an office. While the English “studio” is monolocale in Italian. Stiletto. Stiletto in Italian refers to a particular type of high heal shoes, not only to the heal. The “stiletto” heal is called taco a spillo. Casinò. Correct, even if in Italian the “o” at the end is stressed. If you don’t stress the “o,” it changes meaning. It can create a very awkward situation if you tell someone you’re going to a brothel instead of a “casino.” 

And finally, ciao. Correct, again, but in Italian is used for both “hello” and “goodbye” not only when going away. So, it is completely normal to see someone and greet them with a big loving ciao

But now it came time to say an English “ciao” to you. And be happy you already know and have been practicing a handful of Italian words.