Italian language: When Even Obsolete is... Obsolete
- WTI Magazine #131 Sep 19, 2020
Everyday, I receive my Italian word of the day, and I must confess that lately I have received a lot of words that I either haven’t heard in forever or actually have never heard anyone say them in an everyday conversation. So I looked into it and found more and more words that have stopped being part of the modern vocabulary of your average Italian. They were all beautifully convoluted or incredibly fun to say, so I thought: that’s it! That’s what I am going to write about next time! Great disused words!
The word I received was apricare which according to the dictionary means to spend time outside, lay under the sun and let it warm you up. Something I love to do! And I was wasting time using tons of words when I could just use one. Another word that I received was alea which means “die,” but it came to mean “gambling,” “risk,” “luck.” This word is not super common in colloquial Italian, but it is actually very common in board game jargon, especially with the adjective aleatorio, which basically is used as “random.”
Another word that has basically disappeared from the average Italian vocabulary is buonamano which literally would translate to “good hand” and means “tip.” It’s an older word that is not used anymore and was mostly replaced by the more common word mancia. It sounds kind of funny. And so does the word tornagusto which could be translated literally to “come back taste” and it was used to indicate food or a beverage that whets the appetite. Something today we’ll more commonly call stuzzichino.
But the list is very long: cabalare was used for tramare – “orchestrate,” matese indicated “science,” “math,” “logic,” “astrology,” gaglioffo indicated a farabutto or a pezzente – “scoundrel,” “bum.” The curling iron, today called arricciapelli, was actually called calamisto. A nesciente was someone that was uninformed, who simply wasn’t aware, and ulimoso was used for something that was strongly scented, something today we’d define odoroso.
There were words that can only be substituted by longer expressions like the word imbrifero which means “that brings rain,” or even follare which means to “press/squeeze grapes.” There are colors that lost their names like biavo which indicates a very particular shade of light blue, almost a faded light blue. Or falbo which indicated a dark yellow almost reddish. And vaio, a blackish color typical of very ripe plums, grapes, and olives. And even if it’s not really a color, the word ialino was used for trasparente – “clear.”
There are forgotten words that came to us thanks to our poets, writers, and even songs. The word probo means “valiant,” “brave,” but if you know the singer Fabrizio De André, you are very familiar with his line “un uomo onesto, un uomo probo.”
This is just one example of how words that are considered obsolete can find a new life. Last year, Zanichelli, an Italian publishing house famous for its dictionaries, launched a campaign to save words that were getting used less and less, like crapula – overeating and overdrinking out of gluttony, esimio – much esteemed, spocchia – vanity, arrogance, orpello – frill, a flashy decoration, florilegio – a sample collection, a specimen, but in an ironic sense, and even the word desueto itself – obsolete, that has fallen into disuse. Their advice was to “adopt” one word and try to use it as much as possible in the correct way and context. Using that specific term to give liveliness to your vocabulary, but also expand your culture and curiosity.
So what are you waiting for? Whatever language you speak, whether it’s Italian or not, choose a forgotten word and give it anew life. It’s free! And it will make you look super cultured.