It’s time for another round of Italian words that come from literature.
Two weeks ago I wrote a blog post focusing on the Italian nouns that derive from books and theatre plays, today I am exploring the same topic but with a focus on adjectives.
If you missed last week’s post, let me just tell you that the purpose of this article is to give you a list of the most common Italian adjectives that come from characters mentioned in works of literature or that somehow have to do with writers and books.
The list could be way longer but I have decided to include only the most used adjectives, those that are really part of the language – I won’t say that all of them are part of the everyday conversation but you can definitely find them in books and articles or in a more refined conversation.
So here is the list of Italian adjectives that come from literature.
This adjective comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Hamlet is a reflective and thoughtful young man, someone who is often indecisive and hesitant, and the adjective is used to describe someone (or something) that has the same characteristics. It is very common in the expression dubbio amletico, which describes a doubt that cannot be solved.
Vanesio is the main character of the 18th-century’s play Ciò che pare non è. In the play, Vanesio is someone really foolish, vain, and self-regarding and the Italian adjective is used to describe a person who is exactly like this. The adjective is mainly used only in the masculine form, in reference to men.
The adjective pantagruelico comes from Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel. In the novel, Pantagruel is a huge man who has an incredible appetite, so the adjective is now used in Italian to describe something huge, mostly in reference to food. For example, in expressions like un pranzo pantagruelico or un appetito pantagruelico.
In the novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver finds himself a prisoner of a race of tiny people. Those people live on an island called Lilliput and therefore the Italian adjective lillipuziano describes something that is extremely small, minuscule.
A certain Rocambole was the main character of a series of novels by the 19th-century French writer Ponsol du Terrail. In those novels, Rocambole was a gentleman thief who lived all sorts of adventures. This is why the adjective rocambolesco in Italian is used to describe something really adventurous. For example, un viaggio rocambolesco is a trip with lots of events and adventures (not always positive).
This adjective doesn’t come from the character of a novel but from a writer himself. The writer is Boccaccio, who is the author of Decameron, a collection of novels, some of which are a bit immoral and scandalous. The adjective describes something, usually a work of art, that has the same features.
This is another adjective that comes from a real person: Machiavelli. He was an Italian Renaissance philosopher and writer, mainly known for The Prince. Briefly summarizing his philosophy, Machiavelli believed the social benefits of stability and security can be achieved in the face of moral corruption. The adjective describes political deceit and deviousness, as in un piano machiavellico or una mente machiavellica.
Franz Kafka is a Bohemian novelist and short-stories writer, whose work fuses elements of reality and the fantastic. Most of his work features isolated protagonists facing bizarre or surrealistic predicaments. The adjective is therefore used to describe something unpleasant, frightening, and confusing, a situation that resembles those of his novels.
This adjective doesn’t come from literature but from history. It refers to some verses of a song that celebrated the French captain la Palice, saying that “a quarter of an hour before his death he was still alive”. So the adjective is used nowadays to describe something really obvious and self-evident.
Fantozzi, the character from whom the adjective originates, was born as the main character of some books but he’s become widely popular in Italy due to a series of movies. He is a stereotypically unlucky Italian salaryman, always forced to endure the worst possible suffering. The adjective is generally used in the expression una situazione fantozziana to describe a surreal and really unlucky situation.
And you? Do you have similar adjectives in your native language?
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