Tales of a wandering lesbian

Word to your Nana

Since my return from Italy, I’ve made a good faith effort to learn some of the language. I bought an old Berlitz book, a verb guide, and some flashcards. The most helpful part of my study, however has been instant messaging with my friends from Italy who force me to write a little in Italian each time. I blunder along with a mix of college Spanish and on-line translation that results in a lot of “???” on the other end. Eventually I ask them how to say something, and then I stare furiously at the screen, willing my brain to remember.

It’s funny to realize what’s important in my speech. While I’ve picked up a little of the grammar and word useage, the bulk of what I’ve lerarned has been exclammations. I’m guessing it’s because I use words like “awesome” and “rad” far more than the average bear. Along with “which letters don’t you use in Italian?” I’m often asking for the appropriate exclamation.

I’ll be sharing these as featured vocab words, but for now, they’ve given me insight into much more.

My grandmother’s family is Italian. She didn’t come from Italy, but she grew up with folks who spoke some of the language. To us she’s “Nana” or “The Nun.” She’s great. From her I’ve learned wonderful things like the importance of embracing life, and how Italians are better than Greeks. I’ve also learned Italian slang – I just didn’t know it.

As kids, my sister and I picked up words that the Nun used – some of them we thought were made up. She’d rub our arms and recite the equivalent of “this little piggy” complete with tickling. She’s tell us “sta siede e mangia” (sit down and eat) or tap her temple and say “che pazzo” whenever she thought my grandfather was being strange.

Of course, nobody in my immediate family spoke Italian, so what we heard and repeated was “statseat” and “kapots.”

But, a chat last week with an Italian friend blew open 30 years of funny phrases. In response to something I said, she responded “accidenti!” I didn’t recognize the word, so I quickly plugged it into my handy (and notoriously untrustworthy) online translator. “Accidents.” Clearly I was missing something. Apparently “accidenti” is used to communicate surprise. Along with “accidenti,” I learned “sticazzi” which communicates a similar sentiment is a less G-rated way.

Typing words is great, but I wanted to make sure I had the pronunciation right so that I could exclaim appropriately (or inappropriately as the case may be). I took the opportunity to practice my new words while driving home from work. I’d said “accidenti” out loud about three times when it hit me. I could hear my nana saying “ah chidand” in exasperation. “Ah chidand” sounds remarkably like “Accidenti.” Of course! How fun.

I had a hearty laugh and called my mom to share. Only in the past week have I thought to take these phonetic phrases apart to understand what was really being said. The more I examine, the more I learn about my family. Aparently I’m not the only one with a proclivity for exclamations. I can hardly wait for the next discovery!

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2 comments

1 Michelle | Bleeding Espresso { 08.17.09 at 2:04 am }

Ciao! I found your site because of your post about reading post-law school (I’m the About.com Guide to Law School and will link to your post later this week), but I poked around a bit when I saw that you were in Italy. I’ve lived in southern Italy for six years now, and this post is *so* true for me as well; like you, I grew up with tiny snippets of what I thought were made up words with my Italian-American grandmother…then I came here and realized, nope, just another language that I made into American English as much as I could in my head 😉 Great post!

2 Arrivo | Mid Leap { 10.29.09 at 10:53 pm }

[…] The flight to Florence was good. Lots of turbulence, which I totally prefer on a small plane. Makes me feel like I’m in a car. The hum-drum of the big planes makes me a little nervous, like I’m on some alien aircraft that might not land (am I totally crazy? I might be totally crazy). […]

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