By Martin Bennett.
A loose lexicon of new and amusing terms between Italian and anglicisms.
Tired of wading through the political pages of, say, La Repubblica or Corriere della Sera – their column tracing who’s in power, who’s out, who’s trasversalmente / transversally in-between? A football commentary on the local radio – live or, as sometimes one realises too late, from a month or season gone by – seems so much gabble? The offerings of the opinionaters on so-or-such a talkshow (It/Eng) appear a waste of breath?
Apply some word-watching and all three pastimes take on a fresh interest: From whichever source, that ingenious new coinage – anglicismo or otherwise – lingers in the memory long after whatever else was said is forgotten, imparting zest to worn-out thoughts.
The latest edition of Zingarelli’s dictionary includes 500 such terms. Many come – clic-clic – via the internet. Linkare, matchare, googlare, fotosciopare, taggare, each in all its 50 or so conjugations.
Italian language watchdog
Accademia della Crusca, the Italian language’s watchdog seems powerless to stop them. So we find that someone is molto twittato, even absurder sounding in Italian than in the original English. A recent cinepannetone / Christmas movie as a form of Italian festive cake pokes fun at the same phenomenon. One tourist on a Caribbean cruise gets marooned. Eventually his cruise ship reappears, but passengers and crew – cliccando, googlando, twittando – are all so glued to their iPhones, the desperate Robinson Crusoe ends up ignored. Defriendato, here in the real rather than the virtual click-of-mouse sense.
If computing spawns one set of neologisms, the world of work has spawned another. Or work, inverted commas: daytime television features il tronista. This for a figure – exclusively and vaingloriously male – catapulted to pseudo-royal status, playing court to a series of presumably paid females who compete for his attentions and/or sometimes insults in their regard.
Popstars and politicians
Other ‘-istas’ include staffista / component of the staff following a pop-star or politician; pulmanista / coach driver; giraffista / film cameraman with a high reach; fanfarista / one making, yes, you guessed it, a fanfare.
To change suffix there’s archistar for the likes of celebrated Italian architect Renzo Piano, then, less complimentarily, qualcosatore / somebody who’ll do anything, though one doesn’t know quite what. Excuse the traducese, a pejorative for flat translation. (Dorothy Sayers' laboured version of Dante's Divine Comedy springs to mind, as English with its comparative rhyme-shortage tries flabbily to keep up with Dante’s taut, muscular often mesmerising terza rima.)
A new entry some years back was hostess: “Companion, interpreter. Formerly associated with air travel and then, more and more in Italy, with erotic distractions on land”, to quote Giuseppe Pontiggia’s book Le sabbie immobili. For word-watchers any media offering is grist to the mill. Donald Trump, for his questionable rapport with the truth and his knack of turning it to his advantage, has earned the nickname of Trumpusconi, after another more local politician with already more than his fair share of publicity.
Meanwhile Corriera della Sera notes the American demagogue’s tocco da bulldozer, here the anglicism being much more expressive than the Italian, and unsuitably feminine, scavatrice. Elsewhere we get roadmap, quel pulsante di reset, i raid aerie, divieto export, dei big pentastellati, which is nothing to do with astronomy but with Beppe Grillo’s generals, and omogenitoriale / with same sex parents.
The same side of narcissism and fanta-politica as Trumpusconi, leader is often self-cited with a closing and emphatically rhotic ‘r’. Covering a multitude of gaffes, a more grandiose alternative might be statista. Less flattering, but more accurate in some cases is qualcunista / “whateverer” to attempt a less sonorous English equivalent.
Sometimes Latin and Anglo-Saxon co-create a happy alliterative mix of which the bard of Beowulf could be proud. c.f. A piece on Tony Hadley, ex-Spandau Ballet frontman, has “Non trascurare i crooner”. By the same token commercio flop is more effective than the more standard commercio fallito. The poetry might also be a mere monosyllable, as in the pithy sboom / economic slump.
On the lexical front sport also offers a whole new ball game. A recent book is titled ‘I bomber giallorossi.’ It deals not with colourful warplanes but with AS Roma football club’s bomber (anglicismi plurals lose the final ‘s’) / star-strikers – Batistuta (or “Battigol”) of not so recent memory, the recently-retired Totti and a host of others. Regarding commentaries, anglicismi come fast and furious, as in pressing; English and Italian clash or combine or both. Palla out, fanno attack, il grido del suo team.
Football writers also adapted the curse of Brexit to the vagaries of the transfer market. So we have Dzekxit to describe a muted sell-off of Edin Dzeko, Roma’s sometimes underperforming striker. The rival Lazio camp scored linguistically with Bielxit for the defection of the club’s potential manager, Marcelo Bielsa, after just two days to coach Argentina’s national squad instead.
Not that Italian cannot manage perfectly well on its own. So minutaggio / count down to the final whistle. Speaking of which, we have the pejorative as in Garcia fischiatissimo (or with a very low reading on the applausometro), the same manager being re-named by Rome’s ultra community, Garvia. Consider from the same paper, “José Mourinho, special one, straripante di charisma e di ego ipertrofico.” Pure English couldn’t express in better. Then again omicini senza palle; or, in similar joining of football and anatomy, “Che palle questo pallone!”, as wife might complain to soccer-obsessed husband.
Another lexical source is la Cronaca nera / the crime pages. Especially when they criss-cross with the political ones. The maxi-processo in Rebibbia’s aula bunker of those arrested in the Mafia Capitale scandal was fascinating linguistically. Not furto / theft, God forbid, given the massive sums involved, but its semantic upgrade – the almost virtuous-sounding Associazione a delinquere. In the same vein is “questa somma cash senza la deliberazione dell’organo sociale competente e senza l’iscrizione della erogazione a bilancio.” Attempting to translate into plain English might constitute a misdemeanor.
At street level new entries are not lacking either. To cite another article, beware, stranieri solati / swindled foreigners, of conti salatissimi. Nothing to do with excessive amounts of salt, but over-priced bills.
State of confusion
Meanwhile, if someone calls you er duca, you’re not being praised for your blue blood, but teased for being follically challenged. Duca, minus a capital d is short for due capelli / two hairs. Similarly Cerbo! abbreviates C’è er bordello. Not a street direction to a house of ill repute, but a reaction to a state of confusion.
Romanesco, like Cockney, goes in for eating not only consonants but whole syllables. Also, as here, it occasionally enters the mainstream. Yesterday’s argot makes today’s standard, sanctioned by Zanichelli, no less.
This article was published in the September 2017 edition of Wanted in Rome magazine.