Tag Archives: Italian language

More false friends

21 May
21 May 2016. As I continue to struggle with study Italian, I like to amuse myself with false cognates, or false friends: words that sound like an English equivalent but have a completely different meaning. We call them falsi amici in Italian. These are the bane of every foreign language student. If you haven’t read it already, you might enjoy my post from 2014. Here are a few more for your enlightenment or enjoyment.
Eventualmente is not something you’ll get around to, rather it means something you might do…possibly…maybe…if need be, as in “Maybe I’ll look for a new job” but you are not really motivated. If in the fullness of time something did or will happen, we say alle fine.
Attualmente is something going on at this very instant, not something that is “for real.” In Italian we might say per davvero, in realtà, or incredibilmente, depending on the context. 
A fattoria is a farm, not a factory. The place stuff is manufactured is a fabbrica. This is really confusing because fatto is the past participle of the verb for “make” so you’d think fatto=fattoria therefore “made.” Nope.
Italian sheep farm or fattoria. Not a factory.

Italian sheep farm or fattoria. Not a factory.

Confrontare does not mean to confront, but rather to compare. If you want to confront someone, the verb is affrontare.
Parente is a relative while genitore is a parent, not sexual body parts.
Cane parkingYour cane (pronounced KHAN-ay) may greet you at the door, but not allow you to lean on him for stability. One day on the bus we overheard an American couple remark “Look, cane parking!” when they saw a sign saying such and a little metal hook planted in the wall. It was, of course, a place to park your dog  with a leash tie-up.
Pretendere is demand or insist. If you are dressing up as Wonder Woman you fare finta.
Crudo means uncooked, as in prosciutto crudo, not crude. A person who is crude is rozzo.
Attendere is to await something, such as to hold the line when on the phone or to wait for the ATM screen to load, while participare is what you do when you go to the opera.
Tastare is to touch, not to check the quality of your cooking. That’s assaggiare. When one goes to a winery one does un assaggio.
In Paris we did a wine and cheese tasting, un assaggio.

In Paris, we did a wine and cheese tasting, un assaggio.

A capitolo is a chapter in a book, but Roma is the capitale of Italy.
What may be conveniente to you may be expensive to me as conveniente means affordable or suitable. Comodo means convenient as well as comfortable.
At the bottom of a letter, there is a firma (signature). This is not a company. A company is an azienda or una ditta.
A most famous firma.

A most famous firma.

Occorrere is to need, succedere is to occur.
Baldo does not describe a hairless head, but rather someone who is bold. Calvo means bald.
Accidenti is not a fender-bender: that’s an incidente. Accidenti is an exclamation like “darn it!” Safe enough to say in front of grandma.
When your computer crashes you might shout "accidenti!" (or somehting stronger.)

When your computer crashes you might shout “accidenti!” (or something stronger.)

If you want to call someone an ass, a scumbag, or a bastard, try stronzo which clearly does not mean strong. When someone parks in the pedestrian crossing, they are a stronzo. (This is not a nice word, BTW.)
Eh basta! That’s enough for now! (Basta is a perfectly nice word although it sounds rather naughty.)



12 Dec

So many interesting and amusing signs. Thought I’d share a few.

Add for an English-language school. What does this have to do with learning English?

Add for an English-language school. What does this have to do with learning English?


Gives new meaning to multilingual. The Italian word "lingua" means tongue.

Signboard advert: Gives new meaning to multilingual. The Italian word “lingua” means tongue. 


Fleece Navidad...Get it? American Christmas music is huge here, considering there is not a lot of Italian seasonal music, but I don't know if non-Englosh speakers would really understand this pun. In Italian fleece, as in a jacket, is "pile."

Fleece Navidad…Get it? American Christmas music is huge here, considering there is not a lot of Italian seasonal music, but I don’t know if non-English speakers would really understand this pun. In Italian fleece, as in a jacket, is “pile.”


I know this was a favorite from a blog I posted recently. Worth another share.

I know this was a favorite from a blog I posted recently. Worth another share.


Land of many languages

11 Jul
The Val Gardena is home to the Ladin people, an ethnic group of the South Tyrol with their own language, culture, and traditions. Repressed under Fascism, the language and culture is now embraced and celebrated in this small region. The language is spoken by an estimated 84% of the people in our favorite town of Ortisei and is spoken in the home as a means of  keeping the language alive. But as one cannot communicate outside the small Ladin region without other languages, almost everyone speaks German and Italian (education is all in Italian), and many people also speak English fluently, which is helpful with the numbers of non-German and non-Italian tourists.
Embracing this linguistic variety can cause confusion among visitors. We have been here five times now, and the other day got into an argument about the name of the main piazza in Ortisei. I said it’s Piazza San’Antonio and Ric said, “No, it is Piazza San Antone.” How could we not know that? Here’s why:
Sign in the piazza: Italian, German and Ladin names for the same piazza in Ortisei.
Sign in the piazza: Italian, German and Ladin names for the same piazza in Ortisei.
Even the town itself has three distinct names. In Ladin, it means “place of nettles.” Luckily we have not encountered any of the stinging variety.
Does trail #9 lead to 3 places? No. All are names for the same cute town.
Does trail #9 lead to 3 places? No. All are names for the same cute town.
Some place names are vastly different. The other day we were taking a trail we had not intended to hike. We were not really lost, just a bit off course. At a junction where we had to make a decision, we saw a couple descending so I waited to see if they could clarify our choice. First try, in Italian I asked, “Parla Italiano o Inglese.” Blank stare, then the man says, Deutsch.”  “Do you speak English?” I ask. “A little,” he responded. When I asked where they had come from, he answered with “Langkofelhütte.” Luckily I knew that was the German for Rifugio Vicenza and not our destination, that we should take the other path. How can the same place have such wildly different names?
A final note, many signs at restaurants, etc., are in Italian, German and English to help the majority of travelers. But translations being what they are, sometimes they are amusing. At this rifugio (one of the nicest we have seen) the hills were steep, but what we really needed was some coffee.

What’s in a name?

3 Jul
Learning a new language and living in a different culture give me pause to think about a lot of things. I look at English with a new eye, too, with all its warts and bump and irregularities.  Imagine how hard it is to learn when there are three varying spellings and meanings for a word that is homophonic such as their, there and they’re? Or read (past tense) and red? Or present tense read (reed) and past tense read (pronounced red)? And of course we park in the driveway but drive in a parkway.  Yes, English is nuts.homophones
The fact that languages change the spelling and pronunciation of city and country names is confusing and I have to wonder what self-important systems these are that insist on changing labels. Why is Firenze “Florence” in English?  Why is Venezia “Venice?” For someone making train reservations in Italy, it is mighty confusing as the national train system only accepts Italian names.  Type in “Naples” and you get nothing as only Napoli delivers results. Why do we not learn these native city names as the original language intends?
FirenzeThis practice runs both ways:  London becomes “Londra” in Italian; Paris becomes “Parigi,” and Nice becomes “Nizza.”  It took me about a year to understand an Insalata Nizza was the popular menu item I knew as Niçoise.  Once, when asked my hometown by an Italian official, I had to state it as “Sant Paolo” because the person I was giving it to did not comprehend St. Paul. One of my favorites in Italian: “Paesi Bassi” which literally means low lands but, in fact, represents The Netherlands, a far cry from the Dutch, De Nederland.151.jpg-parigi
I cannot comment on how languages with Cyrillic or Kanji or Arabic characters handle this phenomenon, but there are hundreds of examples in European languages alone. The good old U.S.A. is pronounced “yousa” and written “Usa” in Italian.  Stati Uniti isn’t bad enough, they have to change how the acronym is applied.  For that matter why is Italia “Italy” in English? Why is it necessary to change München to “Munich?” Can we not learn these pronunciations? (OK, Goteborg, in Swedish, is tough! It’s something like “YET-a-boar-ay.” No wonder we call it Gothenburg.)
From now on I am going to use the original language city names in my blog and wherever possible.  I am such a rebel.

The silver lining trip

28 Oct
Call it licking our wounds, making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or the silver lining to the storm cloud, we took refuge in a trip to the Cinque Terre in place of our long-planned-recently-aborted trip to the U.S.
In October of 2010, 2012, and 2013, we made sojourns to the Cinque Terre, but 2014 was to be the 2+ week trip to America to see friends and family, as well as attend our nephew’s wedding.  We would skip the almost-annual fall hiking trip. Since we could not go to the U.S., and since the weather in October was not only holding steady in Rome but improving in the north, we found a last minute rental in Manarola and headed out last Wednesday, with promise of sun and moderate temps.
Wind-whipped day on the Belvedere, Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy.
Wind-whipped day on the Belvedere, Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy.
We were not alone: the hoards have not let up their hold on the cute little villages. First clue was the mobbed train from La Spezia to Manarola on a Wednesday. The sea was rough so the boats that relieve train congestion did not run, making the train all the more fun. Luckily we had only an 11 minute train ride as we had to stand in the vestibule of the train as it chugged through the tunnels. In Manarola we found Andrea waiting as promised to lead us to our apartment. What providence for both of us! For Andrea to have a five night end-of-season rental, and for us to find such a great place that met or exceeded all of our criteria: Less than 100 Euro per night, WIFI, clothes washer, view of the sea, less than 50 stairs to climb, and a place to make coffee in the morning before the bars open. (I added the 50 stairs criteria after a couple of trips where we had 70 or 80 stairs to climb each time we came-and-went from our room or apartment and we decided we prefer spending our energy hiking or exploring a city, not in climbing to and from our lodging.) Andrea’s place is a large one bedroom with two matrimonial beds, and the possibility of renting two additional bedrooms one level down. Could be great for a large family.
People complain that the Cinque Terre is too crowded and touristy. It does seem these little villages are loved a bit too much by non-Italians. Interestingly, the majority of travelers here right now are French, German, Australian, and British. We have run into very few North Americans. While the five villages are cheek-by-jowl with tourists during the daytime, evenings are serene, restaurants can accommodate those of us staying the night, and we have once again found places to venture where few of those passing through bother to tread.
Instead of the famous Sentiero Azzuro between the towns, we headed up up up to Il Santuario di Nostra Signora di Reggio (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Reggio).  We saw one person at the top, and four on the way down. A far cry from the masses on the coastal trail.  Click on any picture for a slide show.
We also headed to Portovenere, which has been on our list for the past three visits. The best way to Portovenere is by ferry, and when the wind is up they do not run. Friday there was a nationwide train strike from 09:00-17:00, so it seemed like a perfect day for a boat trip. We heard nothing but Italian and German in Portovenere. That is to say the tourists were European, not North American, for the most part. It is a fascinating little city with 2600 years of history. The Romans had huge influence, of course. There is a castle, a cemetery with a view, and the lovely Church of San Lorenzo, complete with fresco of his gruesome martyrdom. Returning to our little base in Manarola we could not believe how teaming it was with people after a peaceful day in Portvenere.
Another bucket-list location for us in Liguria was Camogli. I wanted to do the hike from there to the Abbey at San Fruttuoso. Alas, it will remain on the bucket list as the weather report for the planned excursion day showed temps barely above freezing and light rain. We are not sure if the weather report we pulled up was wrong, but we dared not take the chance on a 75 minute one way train trip to find we could not hike. So we headed to La Spezia, which is “the big city” in these parts. Only 11 minutes from Manarola by train, it is of a decidedly different character, but has some redeemable charms. There is an excellent Naval Museum, a beautiful waterfront passeggiata, and a significant pedestrian shopping area no doubt designed to attract the cruise ship visitors that spend the day there. All-in-all we had a good city hike, logging almost 16,000 steps on the pedometer.
Our final day was spent repeating a hike we took two years ago, a hike that gave us some problems at that time. We took a little bio-diesel bus from Manarola up to the tinier hillside village of Volastra. From there we hiked mostly level through vineyards and forest, although our mostly level track had a precipitous drop-off. The final hour was a somewhat technical descent due to a rocky path and awkward footing. Luckily we had good hiking shoes and our walking sticks along.
The special trail shoes and sticks are newly added to our gear, partially as a result of hiking this route two years ago. We had hikers on then, but not trail shoes made for this terrain. The shoes we had then tended to slip and made for some scary moments. The hiking sticks we have pooh-poohed in the past suddenly seemed like a good idea, and we adopted them as well as good trail shoes. We were very proud of ourselves for making this hike again and with proper gear. It was a hell of a workout, but we were safer for the gear. Once again, a lightly traveled route as so few people make their way to the higher trails.
And so we close out a fourth trip to the Cinque Terre. I cannot imagine coming here in the summer when it is even busier, when it is hotter.  It’s lovely to be recognized in restaurants that are not completely slammed, to have servers take their time and be able to linger a bit, to get an off-season rate on an apartment. We would have preferred to be in the U.S. as originally planned as we will not be able to make that trip now for several months, but we found this a nice way heal our disappointment.


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