Jam-makers beware!

Italians love English. They frequently pepper their conversation with English words – for example: ‘vado al bar’ (I go to the bar); ‘bevo un cocktail’ (I drink a cocktail); and ‘il mouse del mio computer è rotto’ (my computer’s mouse is broken). If you follow Italian politics, you’ll even hear them talking about their ‘question time’. I’m not joking!

On the other hand, when I’m in London, I can make good use of my native Italian, ordering a latte for breakfast, or a panini for lunch, and choosing bruschetta, followed by penne all’arrabbiata and panna cotta for my supper.

Jam-makers beware!

Both Italian and English borrow lots of words from other languages. It adds colour and interest, but we need to learn how to use foreign words appropriately. We also need to be careful to avoid literal translations of phrases that might not make very much sense in another language!

For example:

When you say mi dispiace in Italian it means you are sorry. But non mi piace means you don’t like something.

I can’t wait becomes non vedo l’ora (literally, I can’t see the hour).

In Italy you are a ‘piece of bread’ (un pezzo di pane) but in the UK you’re ‘the salt of the earth’.

In Italy, if you have an exam, rather than telling you to ‘break a leg’ your friends will show their support by wishing you a brief stay ‘in the wolf’s mouth’ (in bocca al lupo).

Fattoria is a farm, not a factory (fabbrica). Libreria may sound like a library, but it’s actually a bookshop (biblioteca is a library). While you may think i parenti sound like they should be your parents, they’re actually your relatives (i genitori are your parents).

And though you may think finalmente should mean finally, it’s actually correct to say alla fine/infine.

Last but not least (for the jam makers among you), you may think the correct translation of preservative is preservativo, but take care! Un preservativo is actually a condom!

In bocca al lupo!

Antonio Lucicesare
Teacher of Italian


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