I’ve been compiling a list of my fave Italian words on my phone for a while with a half-baked idea for a post, and I am grateful to this months Dolce Vita Bloggers theme of ‘five Italian words’, which has jogged my memory and allowed me to finally sit down and write about the Italian language. So hats off to Kelly from italianatheart.com, Jasmine from questadolcevita.com and Kristie of mammaprada.com for starting a fascinating conversation.
This is my sixteenth year living in Italy and at last I am feeling at ease with the language.
Italian has always been a challenge for me, I loved studying it as a hobby but when you jump into full immersion living in a foreign country without an expat safety net, your understanding really takes off, while the challenges with learning a second language can be frustrating.
I’m still confused by Italian grammar, I always joke with my students that I am stuck in the basic present, past and future tenses, with an inability to express my opinions in the conditional or study the past in the complex historical past tense academics tend to use.
Italian newspapers are a wonderful exercise in Italian language learning. Italian journalists have little in common with Anglo-Saxon ones, there is no emphasis on quick, clear and easy to understand language, reading a newspaper here in Italy is a journey into the Italian Baroque, filled with flowery intellectual prose, all quite beautiful but guaranteed to give you a headache.
I’m constantly being reminded by condescending Italians of my quaint, adorable Australian accent. While there is no class system in Italy, I think there is most certainly an intellectual snobbery which defines itself as being superior because of the ability to speak, act and sometimes even dress ‘properly’.
I really haven’t studied Italian since moving here full-time. The basic grammar I have has been gained through my university studies and a few short courses during my long-lost twenties. So I have gathered this accumulation of mostly conversational Italian through years of living, working, socializing and interacting with Italians. I often challenge myself by reading a newspaper or a book and this year I am attempting to translate my blog posts into Italian but it still is a long and laboured process, which I am enjoying.
I love words so when I hear something I write it down. I have loads of random lists on tiny pieces of paper, lists both in English and Italian.
The Italian words are heavier, more exotic like the pebbles on rocky Italian beaches, I always pick them up, feel their strange texture, hold them up to the light, listen to their musicality and admire them.
I’m going to share the first five words on my very long list of strange yet beautiful Italian words which have been created to describe quirky or ugly elements of Italian culture, words which only exist in Italian. Wonderfully onomatopoeic sounding words, who roll off the tongue, make me belly laugh out loud and leave me speechless with their aptness. The Italian language is filled with expressive words which reflect the flamboyant and poetical nature of Italy.
FUNNULLONE (fan | nul | ló | ne) : the English translation of this word simply doesn’t do it justice. A slacker, bum or lay about is so much weaker than a fa (from fare or do) nulla (niente or nothing) literally someone who does nothing. Commonly used to describe and complain about government office workers in Italy.
FIGURACCIA (fi-gu-ràc-cia): Italians always talk about making a good impression or a ‘bella figura,’ either by presenting themselves well in front of new acquaintances, professionally or before the general community. A figuraccia is when you make the worst possible impression, totally bombing at a job interview or burning all bridges for a promotion, you have totally ruined your reputation forever which is probably the worst thing ever for an Italian.
MAMMONE (mam | mó | ne) : literally a mammone refers to a large mothers breast, a wonderful image which describes the typical Italian mummy’s boy. A word of advice, if you ever meet a mammone, don’t ever get involved with him, it always gets too Oedipal.
IMBROGLIONE (im-bro-glió-ne): the English translation into ‘trickster’ waters down the meaning of this term. An imbroglione can be a nasty corrupt politician, a sly con man or an oversexed Don Juan, someone who lies and deceives for their own personal benefit, but its more than that, they are absorbed by their own deceit and are one hundred percent consumed by their own lies.
GATTOPARDISMO (gat-to-par-dì-smo): a simple gattopardo is an ocelet or wild cat but after the publication of the Sicilian historical novel of the same title by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in the 1960’s, Italian journalists invented the word gattopardismo to describe a nasty trait of the historical Italian political, aristocratic and business class. It refers to the period of Italy’s unification where basically the royalists and the upcoming middle class took advantage of political change to grab onto the power and wealth left behind after the formation of the new Italian republic. Today it refers to a certain social, political and economic class who will do anything to hold onto their power or wealth and is a synonym for the corruption and nepotism which mars Italy today.
The Italian language is beautiful, even when describing the lesser attractive elements of human nature and above all it always has an honest and down to earth approach to interpreting the world. Honestly, it is this what makes me fall more in love with Italian every day.