The idea to write a blog post about Italian nouns that are related to literature comes from Italian politics.
I couldn’t sleep, a few nights ago, and I started thinking about our (ex)Prime Minister – not exactly the right thought to go back to sleep, I know – and I said to myself: “È proprio un azzeccagarbugli“. This weird word comes from Alessandro Manzoni’s I promessi sposi and made me think of all the Italian words that have similar origins.
Thank God, I fell asleep again that night but the morning after I kept thinking about it and I realized it could be fun to write a blog post about all the Italian words that come from literature. I began jotting down Italian words that could fall into that category and I came up with quite a long list.
This is why I decided to split the blog post in two: today I am focusing on Italian nouns and next time I will focus on Italian adjectives. In this way, the lists are shorter and I can write a bit more about each word. The original list contained more words but I have decided to remove all the ones that are hardly ever used to focus on the most-used ones only.
So here are some common Italian nouns that come from literature.
As I said above, this noun comes from the novel I promessi sposi by Alessandro Manzoni. In the book, Azzeccagarbugli is a vile lawyer who uses all sorts of excuses to avoid helping Renzo. It is now used to describe a lawyer – or someone with a similar job – who is meddlesome and not exactly professional – sorry, Prime Minister!
This is another noun that comes from I promessi sposi: in the book, Perpetua is the housekeeper of Don Abbondio, the priest who is supposed to marry Renzo and Lucia. This noun is now commonly used to describe a priest’s housekeeper and in general, an old lady who is chatty and gossipy.
This noun is used to describe a man who likes pursuing women and who is very gentlemanly and resourceful. It is commonly used in expressions like essere un dongiovanni or fare il dongiovanni. The noun comes from an old Spanish tale by Tirso de Molina.
This noun doesn’t come from literature but from history: Mecenate was a famous Roman knight, counselor of Augustus and protector of artists and intellectuals. It is now used to describe a protector of artists and creatives, like Lorenzo de’ Medici during the Renaissance, for example.
The main character of Nabokov’s novel Lolita is a very sexy and alluring young girl. In Italian, the noun is now used to describe a young and precocious girl who is very provocative and raises sexual interest in older men. It is used in expressions like fare la lolita or essere una lolita.
This noun describes a person who is unbelievably similar to another one, a lookalike, someone who is the spitting image of somebody else. It comes from a play by Latin’s playwright Plauto: Sosia is a character who is replaced by Mercury, who changes his appearance to look like him, causing lots of misunderstandings.
Sosia, the character we mentioned above, is the slave of Amphitryon, from whom comes the Italian noun anfitrione. Actually, this noun doesn’t come from Plauto’s work but from Molière’s later adaptation of the play. In Molière’s play, Amphitryon is a host, so the Italian noun is used to describe a very generous and hospitable master of the house.
In Italian, a casanova is a man who loves women, a womanizer, someone who is a charmer and has lots of adventurous affairs with different women. This noun comes from Giacomo Girolamo Casanova, an adventurer and author from Venice who was famous for his often complicated and elaborate affairs with women.
Cenerentola is the Italian for Cinderella and is used to describe a young lady unfairly neglected, mistreated and forced to do menial work. Needless to say, this noun comes from the famous fairy tale that takes the same name. It is a feminine name but you can also hear it as a masculine, essere un cenerentolo, as a joke.
This is another noun that comes from a fairy tale: it’s Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling. In the tale, a little duckling is perceived as an ugly little creature and suffers much verbal and physical abuse from others. Similarly, the Italian noun brutto anatroccolo describes someone who has very low self-esteem and thinks he/she is ugly but eventually becomes beautiful.
This noun is used to describe someone who is a boaster, who likes to brag, and is very full of himself. It is commonly used in expressions like essere un gradasso and fare il gradasso and comes from a very bold and impulsive character in Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso.
Are some of these nouns used in your native language too?
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