Life

Linguistic blunders

Posted on February 10, 2013

It was this afternoon, while placing an order at the panificio, that I discovered I had been mispronouncing the Italian word for “onion” for the past five months.

Cipolla. It’s a simple enough word – short, no tricky “r” sounds to roll around on the tongue – but I had learned it wrong from day one, read it wrong straight out of the textbook and burned that incorrect pronunciation directly into my brain before putting it to almost daily use at markets all across the city. Five months’ worth of onions. Five months’ worth of awkward mispronunciation. Even now, as I type all this, I’m still saying it wrong inside my head. CI-polla? No, Ci-POL-la.

The correct pronunciation was revealed to me by a woman wearing gigantic, dark sunglasses. We were crowded up against the counter of Panificio Bonci and it was my turn to order; I had been eyeing a slab of pizza bianca topped with copious amounts of onion. The word had barely left my mouth before the lady in the sunglasses turned sharply towards me, and I could sense that behind those dark lenses, her eyes were narrowing.

“Ci-POL-la”, she hissed, her lips twisting into an expression of distaste as though it physically pained her to hear me butchering her beautiful language.

Ci-POL-la”, I repeated dutifully, feeling disconcerted. How was it possible that nobody had corrected me before now? Not the guy at the farmer’s market this morning, who had cheerfully dropped a handful of onions into my shopping bag, not the lady at the fruit and vegetable stand that I frequent at Mercato Trionfale… no one. Were it not for the lady in the sunglasses, I would have continued my mispronunciation, driving the wrong sounds deeper and deeper into my brain every time an onion popped up on my grocery list.

And this, of course, begs the question: How many more Italian words am I habitually butchering, all the while blissfully unaware of the way I’m mangling the Italian language?

Share this post: Pinterest Facebook Twitter

Comments on this post

SaritaAgerman 19 March 2013 at 4:08 pm

I was exactly the same with Fra-GOL-a instead of FRA-gol-a. My main issues are with double consonants and accents though – I just can’t differentiate. Sarita

Leave a comment

Recently Written

Life

Oh, Rome

Last week I picked up my renewed permesso di soggiorno, the little rectangle of plastic that is quite possibly one of the most valuable things in my possession given that it allows me to legally stay in Italy. I sat in a sparse, dingy police station waiting room where announcements from 1998 were thumbtacked to peeling blue walls and a crooked, gilded crucifix hung above the door, and then I sat in front of an unsmiling officer in a cramped office while she dug my new permesso out of a shoebox full of envelopes, sliced my old one into a...

Food  |  Travel

Ovindoli: The great outdoors (and cool temperatures) at Rome’s doorstep

We had come to Ovindoli to escape. It was the beginning of August, and as is tradition, Rome was beginning to empty itself steadily, disgorging its residents in the annual exodus towards other, more appealing holiday destinations while sweaty tourists flowed in to take their place. A heatwave named Lucifer (Italians like to name their heatwaves) was also set to descend on the country, pushing temperatures up beyond the 40ºC mark and well beyond the possibility of tolerance. We headed for the mountains – not the taller, more famous peaks up North with the spectacular skiing in the winter and lush green...

Food  |  Travel

Sun, sea, and extremely spicy sausage: Venturing into Calabria

I had never heard of San Nicola Arcella when I agreed to spend nine days there. Neither, apparently, had anyone else. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I saw a lot of blank faces whenever I mentioned where I would be travelling. Friends, the barista preparing my morning cappuccino, even a guy who grew up in the same region – nobody seemed to know about this place. I quickly came to the conclusion that it would turn out to be either one of Italy’s best-kept secrets… or one of its secret shames. San Nicola Arcella is in Calabria, which at...

Life

Rome’s coast: Beach, or outdoor living room?

This is what you probably don’t associate with a relaxing day at the beach: Forty-five minutes in the car, windows down, hot air streaming in. Traffic; a long, slow snarl that snakes towards the coast, tangling up hopelessly at every on-ramp and poorly-placed stoplight. And a painful hunt for an acceptable parking space; a space where you might have a chance of actually extracting the car at the end of the day. It feels like a mass-exodus from Rome, and in a way, it is. It’s the weekend; the city is relocating to the sea. The Roman coastline, or the litorale romano as...

Food  |  Life

An abundance of time and apricots

It’s late June, and summer has long since arrived and settled in for the long haul here in Rome. When I initially sat down to write this post, just over a week ago, I started to write that we were at the point in the season where everything still felt exceedingly new and pleasant: The sun on my back as I walked down the street, Saturdays at the beach, seeing the stonefruit and the first few watermelons showing up on the market tables. But, a week later, I’m ready to revise that statement slightly. While we haven’t exactly gotten to the...

Travel

The particular beauty of Naples, an incomplete list

I crave Naples the way I occasionally crave a very specific type of food: Intensely, completely, and then – in exactly the same way as when I allow myself to indulge in inadvisably large quantities of something like sushi or Indian food – not at all for a relatively significant length of time, until one day I wake up again and think: You know what I need? I need a pizza, eaten in the city where it was invented, and I need a dose of that in-your-face, brazen chaos that only Naples can properly deliver. I’d been to Naples a good number of times before,...

View more posts
Show me posts about...