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Italian word of the day: 'Mezzogiorno'

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Italian word of the day: 'Mezzogiorno'
DepositPhotos
15:40 CET+01:00
Why this common word doesn't always mean what you think it means.

When Italians talk about mezzogiorno, they're not always discussing lunchtime - although that would be the most obvious meaning, and maybe the most obvious topic up for discussion in this food-obsessed country.

Italians do use mezzogiorno to talk about midday, or noon:

Pranziamo a mezzogiorno

We eat lunch at noon

But when Italians start using the word while talking about the weather, politics or geography, non-native speakers tend to get a bit lost.

Curiously, the south of Italy – basically everything south and east of Naples – is often referred to as the Mezzogiorno.

Le città del Mezzogiorno

The cities in the south of Italy

Sicily and Sardinia are often included in the Mezzogiorno, too.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

If you're wondering why on earth Italians would describe half of their country as ‘midday', the reason goes all the way back to the days of the Maritime Republics, or repubbliche marinare, in the middle ages.

Seafarers around the Mediterranean gave names to the winds coming from different directions to help them describe their routes, long before the days of the compass, when they couldn't simply say 'North' or 'South-east'.

Vento di Tramontana, proveniente dal Settentrione (Wind from the north)

Vento di Ponente, proveniente dall' Occidente (Wind from the West)

Vento di Levante, proveniente dall' Oriente (Wind from the East)

Vento di Mezzogiorno, proveniente dal Meridione (Wind from the South)

The wind coming from the south was called ‘il Mezzogiorno' because at midday the sun is seen in the south (or, as it was known long before there was a word for 'south', in the Meridione, or Meridian.)

 

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A modern version of the wind rose, or la rosa dei venti. Photo: Depositphotos.

Still today, the south of Italy is also often called Meridione, while the north is still referred to as Settentrione.

Or Italia meridionale/settentrionale

These words might sound like some unnecessary thing that only a geography teacher would ever use, but in Italy you'll hear them in weather reports and everyday conversations all the time.

So basically, Italians today are still using some very old-school sailor lingo in everyday speech. Which is really kind of cool.

So next time an Italian friend starts talking about mezzogiorno while discussing the weather, you'll know it's not just because they're really looking forward to lunchtime.

Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.

 
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