How Big is Your “Salve” Circle?

Foreigners who learn Italian often want to get up to speed on vitriolic cuss words or smooth sweet nothings. Swearing like a Turk (as they say) came easy to me, but greetings were tough to get right.
In the morning, you say “buon giorno,” but in Florence, where I learned Italian, they start kicking in with good afternoon/evening at around noon. And although saying “sera” to someone at 1 p.m. will get you raised eyebrows in most other parts of Italy, the habit has stuck with me.
Then there’s the age and status component: just who can you toss a very casual “ciao” at and who not? It’s a salutation minefield, and when you can’t get the first words out with any finesse, the conversation goes downhill faster than a Fiat with faulty brakes.
And so when I moved to Milan, it was with great pleasure that “salve” came into my life. It’s the closest thing Italian has to a generic, all-purpose “hello,” you can pretty much say it to any one, any time of day and in any situation.
Pronounced “sal-vay,” the word also means “safe” as in “safe and sound” (sano e salvo) and that’s how it made me feel: secure. It’s not a personal greeting, you wouldn’t want to use it to someone you really know and chat with, so it’s perfect for nodding acquaintances. Like all-black outfits, it’s much more frequently found in Northern Italy, but works well in the rest of the peninsula.
Just how small my “salve” circle was became apparent one recent rainy morning when a corner of my kitchen started to look like a Rorschach test from a persistent leak. The landlord said I needed to the key to a lock for the roof before we could make an appointment to get it fixed.
I didn’t have it and the two downstairs neighbors I’m friendly with didn’t either. So who to ask? Not the recycling fascist, for sure. I couldn’t stand another lecture on removing the plastic windows from paper envelopes. There’s a woman known as “wife-of-the-restaurant-owner” (why don’t I know her name?), sometimes encountered around the bike rack, but wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I’d get if I knocked on her door.
The rest of the palazzo residents I wasn’t sure I’d recognize if I saw them at the supermarket around the corner. Stuck in etiquette limbo, I sat on the project (and interpreted the changing pattern of the stain) for about a week. Then I checked out the lock and found someone had forgot to close it, so the immediate problem was solved.
But it got me thinking: just how many people do I see frequently (at the robo-cop gym, the supermarket, the park) that I might say hello to? Without being creepy or practicing some sort of massive group come-on? And how many more might I chat to, if I had a go?
Thought I’m not exactly a shrinking violet — and grew up with a dad who has never met anyone at a flea market, Mexican restaurant or church social that he didn’t like — speaking a foreign language learned as an adult has made me shy and tentative.
Because if you open up your mouth to a stranger and the weather comment is grammatically faulty or imperfectly accented, people look at you funny. And tend to follow up with an unfriendly, “Where are YOU from?” that often sounds more like, “Hark! Who goes there?”
So you either shut up (previous strategy) or not care if it doesn’t come out right (new strategy).
Predictably, the experiment got me into a few cringe-worthy scrapes. Confident I remembered the name of a woman in yoga class, I kept repeating her wrong name in conversation, only to realize later, when the instructor corrected her by name, that all women of a certain age with slightly bouffy wheat-colored short hair look alike to me. Or the supermarket checkout girl, thrown the offhand (but sincere) compliment on her poker-straight, black hair only to respond with an eye roll, “When have you ever seen my hair differently? I mean, do I know you?” Ouch.
The security guard outside the bank that I walk past every day on my way to the newsstand still watches silently with suspicion and crossed arms, refusing to exchange my greetings, but the elderly doorman at the palazzo next to the bank now gives me a real smile and a “salve” every single morning, which feels like an accomplishment. Another neighbor invited me for dinner and Italian X-factor (addictive!), and it turned out his wife had invited an old friend of mine over, too. (Note to self: Milan is a lot smaller than it looks. Behave accordingly).
As a bonus, there’s been lots of good information (Benetton is the go-to place for cute, inexpensive bikinis, AC Milan has had better seasons, RyanAir is having a one-euro sale if you book now) and while the results are unpredictable, you can triple-fold your circle of acquaintances in about six weeks, even in a big city, if you start your local equivalent of “salvay-ing” today.
If you try it, let me know what happens.

That’s amore: Italy’s favorite word

Five small letters are all you need, according to a poll on the favorite words of Italians. “Amore” or love ranked ranked top for 22% of Bel Paese residents, nearly three times as popular as “mamma” followed by “pace” (peace) and “libertà” (freedom). Full results of the poll from think-tank Eurisko, commissioned by the Dante Aligheri society, have not yet been released.

Italian Nicknames Enter Phone Books staff updated:Fri. Nov. 14 11:07 amLooking for Mr. Hardhead? Miss Nitpicker? The son of ‘Napoleon?’ Search no more: listings in phone books on the Italian isle of Sardinia will be complete with nicknames in local dialect.

The idea came to local truck driver Salvatore Cabras who was tired of fielding calls from people looking for friends or relatives with the same exact name. Cabras decided to distinguish himself by adding the nickname he’s had since childhood, which translates to something like ‘tough guy.’

This initiative has more to it than an artificial push to institutionalize dialect that, in other parts of Italy, has led to bilingual street signs and translations of computer programs. Having the same name as another person has led to many legal horror stories in Italy, so much so that website keeps a running list of these unjust arrests. Italians are also largely stuck with names their parents assign them because courts only allow changes in very limited circumstances.

Nicknames can often be handed down for generations. Umberto Moro, for example, is known as "hornet" an appellative handed down from his grandfather’s knack for stinging wit. "I’ve inherited it and passed it on to my two daughters, it’s part of a tradition and distinguishes our common name."

Time will tell if the nickname listings are successful. It may depend on how many people consider them either positive or are able to shrug the negative ones off — it’s one thing to be known as the kid of ‘cockroach’ or ‘funnel’ (label given to a heavy drinker) — and quite another to go down on the books that way.

Mayor Angela Corrias, intimates call her ‘Puppu’, says hers has been handed down so many times no one remembers what it means. "It was my grandmother’s nickname, but no one could tell me what it derives from or the exact meaning. Now it’s mine and I’d have to say I’m happy to have it."?1999-2003

Zoomata is the brainchild of a bilingual journalist based in Italy who thinks out of the box. This brain is for hire.

Italians Fight Flood of English Words

Students of Italian may have an easier time using Italian newspapers to improve their understanding of the language thanks to the latest flood of neologisms from English. Italian journalists have coined 5,000 new words over the last five years, many of them come from English, according to a new book from the National Research Center (CNR).

Should an Italian casually offer, “Andiamo a drinkare una cosa al bar?” Chances are an English speaker with a minimal grasp of Italian will understand that a few cocktails are in the offing. And a pompous acquaintance going on about “glocalismo” or how he just bought shares in a “public utility” will be relatively easy to follow, as perhaps a friend who mentions a favorite “quizzone” or game show.

There is, however, a flip side to this trend — some of the new terms not based on English are incomprehensible to those outside Italy. A few examples? Describing that new coworker as a “cococo” isn’t a put-down, but just shorthand for the much-debated continuous collaboration contract. And what about celebrity labeled” attapirato?” Nothing tragic — they’ve been given the golden tapir award for some kind of dubious behavior from the country’s most-watched satirical show “Strip the News” (Striscia la notizia).

Not all Italians are enthusiastic about this hybrid language. Protests over the mix of Ital-English don’t come from the Accademia della Crusca, Europe’s oldest linguistic watchdog which has been notably silent about the growing number of foreign words in everyday Italian, but a group of Italian politicians and, yes, notable journalists who don’t like the way things are going. In a petition sent to Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, signers take umbrage with the transformation of the labor ministry (“ministero del lavoro”) now known as “ministero del Welfare” and the names of state TV Rai’s channels (Rai Educational, Rai News, etc.)

This is the first sign of resistance in an Anglophile country just getting around to protecting its national identity. According to statistics, Italian is one of the most studied languages on the planet, but for the first time this spring Italians inaugurated a national exhibit on their native tongue.
The exhibit at the Uffizi Gallery’s Reali Poste in Florence — which explores the roots of modern Italian as well as its intersections with foreign languages — is precisely the kind of horn-tooting celebration Italians strenuously avoid. It took 10 years to find enough interest and funds to put it together and may form the cornerstone of the first museum on the history of the Italian language. Slated to close in the end of September, the unexpected success of the exhibit prompted organizers to hold it over until Dec. 31 2003. Tutto OK, then. ?1999-2004

Italian: 40% of words ‘extinct’

Modern Italian has lost some 40% of words commonly used in Medieval times, according to a study by national research council CNR. Linguists are compiling an historical dictionary to record these extinct terms and preserve them for the future. Perhaps more surprising than the quantity of linguistic dinosaurs are the 60% of words carried down through 800 years of history.

“The fundamental core of vocabulary from the 1200-1300 still stands the test of time,” said professor Pietro Beltrami, director of the dictionary project. “Italian as a language was only codified and became used nationally in the 1500s, following the publication of Pietro Bembo’s ‘Prose della volgar lingua’ (Prose in vernacular.)”

Some of words used in Dante’s time have easily recognizable modern counterparts — many of those from the 13th and 14th centuries, for example, simply dropped a few letters. For example the words "burn" and "fugitive" were "abbruciare" and "affuggitivo" compared to modern versions "bruciare" and "fuggitivo." Others are a bit harder to arrive at from modern Italian — like "cerusico" (surgeon), "bambarottolo" (silly person), "bastracone" (big lug).

Related resources:
Browse the first 8,000 entries of the dictionary, A-C.

Anger with Style,Perfecting the ”Bad Words”

Dictionary of Italian Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Italian Language Watchdog Offers Online Help

The oldest language watchdog in Europe finally entered the Internet age. L’accademia della crusca, whose very name implies separating the wheat from the linguistic chaff, can now help students of today’s Italian clear up doubts on the language in real time.
Even some of the more tricky questions, such as how to deal with foreign words used in Italian find a prompt answer. (According to the language arbiters, no matter the quantity, they remain invariable. Examples: “i film, gli sport, i computer.”)
If you’ve got some nagging doubt, take advantage of the ‘consulenza linguistica’ section where you can view frequent questions, ask one of your own or just browse the forum. Another fascinating feature is dedicated to new words — find out why "girotondo" "badante" and "giftshop" have made it into Italian and find references and reasons for use.
For scholars, the virtual library is of sure interest — they can consult the first Italian vocabulary from 1612 online as well as other historic publications before trying to drag them out of some dusty library.
The English version is still under construction.

Italian resume workshop

Readers have often asked how to perfect a resume for the Italian job market (called ‘curriculum vitae’ or CV by Italians) and while there is no perfect formula, here are a few pointers. Once you’ve secured the interview, try our interview tip sheet or the Reader-recommended reference: Survivor Package.

• Italian CVs are generally a bit longer than their US counterparts — but one-two pages is still a good guideline.

• Tailor your resume the job offer — interviewers can be brusque if they can’t understand quickly exactly what you’ve done. Interviews are often more of a gauge to see whether you’re a good fit than to verify your experience.

• References. Generally not included or mentioned in the resume — but if you have work experience in Italy, be prepared to name names in the interview. Italians do check references — but will prefer to use their own contacts (often the most prominent person of the company) rather than any numbers you supply. The trick is to make sure higher-ups know about you & your work.

• If you’re not fluent in Italian — get the best translation you possibly can.

• Otherwise stick to a brief, clearly written resume in English, with a few Italian-style additions. You may want to add personal information (date and place of birth, marital status — it’s legal info in Italy) and this final sentence: "In accordance with Italian law no. 675/96, I authorize the handling of my personal data." (the Italian version: "l’autorizzazione al trattamento dei dati personali in riferimento alla Legge 675/96"). Now, we’ve never heard of a resume actually getting chucked because it didn’t mention the Italian privacy law waiver — but showing that at least you’re aware of it will make you appear clued in.

&#149 Dates. Keep in mind that Italian standard format is day, month, then year, usually separated by slashes.

• Have some passport-sized photos ready. Don’t attach them unless they’re asked for, though, and make sure they’re professional-looking and conservative.

The sections of a resume

This is the most basic format and order — use headings to block off the sections. Personal data generally goes first, but the other sections can be switched depending on your experience and the kind of job you’re applying to.

Dati Personali (personal data): First & last name, telephone (if you have a mobile, put that) address, place & date of birth. Nationality or work visa status would also be a helpful addition here. If you belong to a professional organization — journalist, lawyer doctor whatever put that here, too.

Formazione (studies)
Chronological, last degree first. Italians often include the final grade and thesis topic. You may want to add major, minor as well as study abroad or other seminar/post-grad training courses.

Esperienze Lavorative (work experience)
Start with current or most recent. Better not to leave chronological gaps, but do place more emphasis on important or lengthy posts.

Conoscenza Lingue (knowledge of languages)
Spell it out — you’ll save some confusion.
English mother tongue
Basic written and spoken Italian
Scholastic German

Conoscenze Informatiche (knowledge of computers)
This can be a simple list of programs you know how to use — Italians don’t take for granted that potential candidates know how to use even Word. If you’re applying for something more tech-related, be sure to mention your level of knowledge.

This is a relatively new addition to the Italian CV world — use it singular and in English, the Italian translation "interessi extraprofessionali" is less common.

The Bug Zapper: Nitpick these Instructions!

It’s mosquito season and what better way to test your Italian than nitpick for errors in this instruction manual for an electric bug zapper. Everyday proof that universal translators are far from perfect…The first reader to send back a “debugged” Italian version wins an Italian mosquito kit complete with a citronella candle and itch creme, as well as our unending admiration.?1999-2004

Zoomata is the brainchild of a bilingualjournalist based in Italy who thinks out of the box. This brain is for hire.

Durante l’utillizzazione di apparecchiature elettriche, specialmente alla presenza di bambini, tutte le precauzioni di base devono essere seguite, incluse le seguenti.

Non lasciarlo cadere o farlo cadere in acqua o altro liquido. Se e caduto nell’acqua staccare prima immediatemente la spina.

E’ necessaria una supervisione attenta quando l’apparecchio viene usato da bambini o vicino ad essi o ad invalidi.

Non abbandoni l’apparecchio senza cura quando è in funzione. Tenga il cavo dalle superficie riscaldate.

Non funziona qualunque apparecchio o è stato danneggiato un qualungue maniera.

Non gocciola o inserisce oggetti qualunque in qualunque apertura perché questo può causare un colpo electtrico.

Non mette parte calda dell’unità superficie sensibile del calore quando è caldo.

Per evitare l’azzardo della scottatura, non lascia superficie riscaldate a toccare il pelle nudo.

Questo apparecchio dovrebbe essere messo un magazino mai quando è caldo o quando è ancora collegato col corrente.

Questo prodotto è inteso per famiglia usa solo.

Non usarlo vicino alle vasche, bacini o altri vasi che contengono acqua.

Conservare Queste istruzioni

Italy By Numbers: Italian-English Dictionary

+7,000 words added
75% new words (circa) high-tech related
145,000 words total
+200 false friends

The authoritative Italian-English 2003 dictionary published by Zingarelli presents an interesting dilemma for students of contemporary Italian. Most of the new terms — the last edition was published in 1995, before the Internet made much headway in the Bel Paese — are simply the adoption of words from English.

Some examples are spamming, browser, e-zine, firewall which do not have direct correspondents in Italian. No guide is given to how these words are actually pronounced by Italians, so unless the English speaker is adept at rolling out the vowels he or she is likely to be misunderstood — and resort to long-winded explanations like "flooding the mail box (of other users) with undesired messages" for terms like spamming.
False friends continue to grow — evidenced in the dictionary by an exclamation mark and the explicit warning ‘do not translate this way’. Among these tricky terms, the correct translations are: incumbent (in carica) inconsistent (contraddittorio), eventually (alla fine) attitude (atteggiamento).

Related resources:
2001 Italian & English Idioms
More on every day speak…

Teach Yourself Beginner’s Italian
Jump start your command of the language with this reader favorite…

Anger with Style,Perfecting the ”Bad Words”

Often the first words learned and the last mastered, le parolacce (bad words) pose numerous problems for students of Italian. Rules about using slang or dubious expressions are constantly changing, however, women who liberally use the “baddies” are still often considered sboccate (without restraint) even by the younger set. Yet the Italian chaos (lost baggage, wildcat strikes, post office lines) surely inspires expletives. Our advice? Substitute the heavy expletive with a gaffe-free euphemism. The point will be made, even by the fairer sex or in a situation requiring the formal “lei” form. Here’s a list suggested by the Treccani**, mother of all Italian dictionaries.If you’re intent on deciphering Italian slang — this is one of the more reputable guides…
Dictionary of Italian Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Zoomata is the brainchild of a bilingualjournalist based in Italy who thinks out of the box. This brain is for hire.

Offending Expletive Kinder, Gentler Euphemism
Che cazzo! Che cavolo! or Che kaiser! These have the advantage of sounding like the orginal — but you can’t be blamed for cursing the "cabbage" or the "Kaiser" when things go wrong…
Porca puttana! Porco zio! or Porco due! (The "pig" in question is roughly like the word "damn" so you’re still getting a bit of oomph…)
Andare affanculo

andare a quel paese/ mandare qualcuno a quel paese. Es. "Ma va’ a quel paese" "Ti mando a quel paese." You’re not telling them to screw themselves, but still "sending them up."

andare a fare in bagno Es. "Ma va’ fa ‘n bagno!" This one has the advantage of sounding the most like the original, without getting so strong — no one’s going to get offended by telling them to "go have a bath."

Per dio! Per Diana! or Per Bacco! These often come up as subsitutes in kid’s comic books — and sound a bit stilted but are still effective…
Scemo! Non è una volpe. Instead of calling a person an idiot — just say politely that they’re not exactly a fox…
Deficiente! Frescone! When you want to call someone you don’t know an idiot, this will do it, without getting you into trouble.
Figlio di puttana Figlio di una buona donna. Instead of son-of-a-bitch, becomes literally son-of-a-good-woman — but the meaning comes across..
Minchia*! Mizzica! An expression of surprise, or for emphasis. "Mizzica questo forum funziona!" "Wow, this forum works!"

*Not from the illustrious Treccani, but since this Sicilian term has become widely used throughout Italy, better to have a safe version at hand.