Just what are Italians doing to English?

December 4th, 2008 | by Ainsley |

One of my many duties at www.homesandvillasabroad.com involves translating into English the property descriptions we receive from Italian estate agents.

One issue that crops up frequently and – initially at least – puzzled me no end (apart from the apparent punctuation shortage in Berlusconi’s Italy)?

Box.

As in: “…completano la proprietà un giardino ed un box.” (A garden and box complete the property).

An amused Italian colleague soon provided the answer: “Box” means garage. In Italian-English, that is.

There were other examples of this bizarre hybrid language. “Spazio ideale per il relax” – an ideal space for a relax. Relax in English being a verb, in Italian-English turning into a noun.

Just two cases of the way modern-day Italian is full of English words and phrases mangled in a way that would bemuse, confuse and occasionally horrify a native English speaker.

There are several others.

In Britain I might – if I ever put down my Snickers bar and milkshake – go jogging. A fitness-conscious Italian, however, would go to fare il footing.

Afterwards – doubtless to fare un relax on those tired limbs – she might pop to il wellness centre for a sauna or massage. Where treatments on offer are likely to include un peeling.

Getting dressed she would probably reach for her can of lo spray (pronounced “spry” in Italian-English) to touch up her hair. Then a quick nip into il water (loo) before setting off home.

Freezing outside? Good job she’s brought along her montgomery while her friend’s wrapped up in her trench. Both coats, before you ask.

On the way she might need to stop off to pick up un smoking (tuxedo) for her husband as tonight’s his firm’s dinner party.

They’re a large holding (parent company) for a PR group and hubby would be in un stato di choc (shock) if she forgot to collect it. Turns out their latest project is un nuovo spot (advert) featuring il Mister (the manager) of Inter Milan.

In similar vein are English words that have been bastardised into Italian. Take your pick from boicottare, handicappare and dribblare to the more modern: testare, filmare, cliccare, scannerizzare.

What does all this prove? A number of things in my opinion.

First: the all-invasive reach of American and – to a lesser extent – English popular culture around the world. (One of my previous blogs has looked at the phenomenon of English words – in their correct sense – infiltrating Italian.)

American movies and music and their stars form a large part of the content of Italian TV and showbiz magazines. As Italians would doubtless put it: sono cool. (Although I recall watching a David Letterman monologue with Italian subtitles and every lost-in-translation pun explained to baffled Italian viewers with the phrase gioco di parole – “play on words”.)

Second: simple snobbery. In the same way that a pompous British or US highbrow newspaper columnist might refer to inter alia rather than among other things, in flagrante delicto instead of red-handed, what other explanation can there be for the Italian journalist who, to conclude an Italian TV debate on rubbish (the disposal of), intoned, slipping into English: “Business is business.”

Third: English, with its monosyllabic nature and tendency to abbreviate long words, is infinitely more adoptable. In technology alone, think IT, PC, Mac, email, web, net, mouse, blog, spam, hack, click, scan, link, online, log on, log off. Italian, on the other hand, will very rarely use one word where two will do (Think macchina fotografica instead of “camera” or mi sono reso conto che for “I realised”).

Languages, by their very nature, evolve. But am I alone in wishing the language of Dante and Petrarch could remain pure and unadulterated – maddening prolixity and all? After all, that’s what’s made it the world’s most beautiful language.

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