I have the pleasure today of sharing with you an article written by Ainsley Okoro, who has been examining the effects of English on the Italian language. If you enjoy this article, you can stop by Becoming Italian Word by Word to read another fascinating article on the same subject.
Given that in language class at school I was saddled with the deadly combination of window seat and dull teacher, when I started learning Italian I realised I would need all the assistance I could get.
What’s helped? The growing number of English words widely used in Italian –everything from il budget and il business to lo shopping and il weekend.
Less useful? So-called “false friends” – Italian words that don’t mean what you think they should. So, una fattoria isn’t a factory, il magazzino isn’t the same as magazine and il polluzione doesn’t mean pollution.
But far more annoyingly misleading are English words that have crossed into Italian – and then been given a completely different meaning, as if at random.
Take my Italian father-in-law, who wondered why I looked puzzled when he told me how, a couple of weeks previously, his car è andata in tilt. High-speed trains tilt…but cars? It means on the blink, apparently, as in not working.
Or how about the friend who explained how his son had travelled across Cuba the year previously, facendo l’autostop. That’s hitchhiking to you. Which makes some sense – but only after it’s been explained to you.
There’s more. For instance, an Italian executive might start the day putting on un tight, opening il suo box, getting into un spider and then heading to his job at un holding. (Translations: Tight is morning suit; box means garage; spider refers to a convertible car; while holding means a parent company).
At lunchtime he might fare il footing – or what in non-Italian English is known as jogging. On the other side of town, meanwhile, Mrs Executive, a TV actress, is about to shoot un nuovo spot (advertisement), in which she’s starring alongside il Mister (the manager) of soccer club Inter Milan. To prepare herself, she’s spent the morning at un wellness centre – ideal to fare il relax and have un peeling.
Later on that evening she and hubby are off to a dinner party – for which he’s changed into il suo smoking (tuxedo) while she’s in il suo montgomery. On the way they’re picking up one of her friends, who’s wearing un nuovo trench. Getting there by Lamborghini certainly beats taking il pullman. (Translation: Smoking is a tuxedo, montgomery and trench are both coats; while pullman means the bus.)
Ah, the joys of learning Italian. I mean it’s one thing being stumped by Italian words…but English ones too?
Ainsley Okoro works for the property for sale in Italy website Homes and Villas Abroad.com and specialises in Calabria property and Tuscany property
Great article, and as an Italian living in the USofA , I can testify it does work the other way around, too. For years I translated Italian idioms into English, literally, for the amusement of my wife and kids. I often travel to Italy, as a "guide and translator" for American businessman, and I am horrified and ashamed for how badly Italian managers and executives speak English. It's not spoken, it's mangled so badly it's embarrassing.
Just one short side-note, however.
As far as I know, "fattoria" does mean "farm" ...
If I am wrong, accept my apologies.
No, you are right...fattoria does mean farm. Maybe I should edit Ainsley, I'm sure he meant to say that fattoria does not mean factory.
I have been hearing these for so long that I no longer notice them!
But when they start throwing dialect into English phrases on the other side of the pond, I really have a laugh...
Oh that is cute.
Yes, great article. I enjoyed that very much.
I'm always thrown by a camera not being something you take pictures with.
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