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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Ecco’

Here we have a very versatile word that you'll hear all the time in Italy.

Italian word of the day: 'Ecco'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Ecco is another of those Italian words that just don't quite translate into English.

Roughly, it means “here” or “there”.

In English we pepper our speech with little phrases like “here we go” “here you are” and “there you have it”, and Italians do the same.

– Eccoci, finalmente siamo arrivati

– Here we are, we've finally arrived!

READ ALSO: The top ten Italian words that just don't translate into English

But of course, it's not really that simple. Even in Italian, ecco is in a category all of its own. Literally.

Avverbi presentativi, or presentation adverbs, is the name of a type of adverb in Italian used to present, indicate, show, or announce something. The one and only adverb of this type still used in modern-day Italian is ecco.

You can find it used alone, but often  it's attached to a pronoun: mi, ti, ci, vi, lo, la, li, le, ne

– Eccovi qui, cari amici!

– there you are, dear friends!

Eccoli qua!

– here you have them!

These ecco phrases are often used to announce the arrival or appearance of someone or something, particularly if it's long-awaited.

– ecco il treno

– here's the train

 

It has more subtle meanings too. For example, this dictionary says it can “lend a nuance of irony to a situation.”

But most often I hear it used as an exclamation, to express satisfaction or surprise.

In that case, it translates to something like “look at that” or maybe even “behold!”

– Ecco! Ho dimenticato di nuovo le chiavi!

– Look at that. I forgot the keys again!

 

A bit like quindi or allora, it can also be used when you're not sure what else to say.

– Ecco…allora

– Look… well then

An ecco can also be deployed halfway through a sentence when you want to correct or change what you were saying.

– mi è sembrato… ecco… ho saputo che…

– I felt… no… I knew that…

You can use it to start or end a discussion or explanation

– Ecco, le cose sono andate così

– Here, things went like this

– ecco tutto

– that's all

And ecco fatto (that’s it) means something is finished.

– Ecco fatto l'articolo!

– That's the article finished!

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

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day ‘Peloso’

Here's why being 'hairy' in Italian isn't necessarily a good thing...

Italian word of the day 'Peloso'

You’d expect a dog or cat to be peloso/a – furry, fluffy or shaggy – but what about a human who’s peloso (pronunciation here)?

It might just refer to someone who’s hairy, or a hairy body part.

È una giornata fredda per fare un tuffo in mare ma Davide non deve preoccuparsi, guardate quant’è peloso!
It’s a cold day for a dip in the sea but Davide doesn’t need to worry, look how hairy he is!

Le mie sopracciglia pelose le ho prese da mia madre.
I got my furry eyebrows from my mother.

But it can also mean someone who’s artful and wily – the Treccani dictionary says the word defines someone who has their own interests at heart and lacks moral scruples.

Non fidatevi di Claudio, è la persona più pelosa e insincera che abbia mai conosciuto.
Don’t trust Claudio, he’s the most self-interested and insincere person I’ve ever met.

Where did the idea of a sly, self-serving person being ‘hairy’ come from?

A video explainer on the Repubblica news site offers some clues: it discusses the origins of the phrase carità pelosa, meaning a type of charity or help offered by a donor whose underlying motives are selfish.

According to presenter Stefano Massini, the expression refers all the way back to the 11th century, when William the Conqueror (often referred to as Giuliano/Gugliemo il Bastardo, ‘William the Bastard’, in Italian) sought the blessing of Pope Alexander II for his 1066 invasion of England.

Alexander agreed to support William’s military campaign, and was said to have sent the warrior a gold ring along with a few hairs from the beard of St. Peter as a token of his approval.

The invasion was – famously – successful, and to thank to the pope, William sent him a vast array of riches plundered from his new kingdom, worth far more than Alexander’s initial gift of a piece of jewellery and a few hairs.

While we can’t know that Alexander II expected such a high return on investment, these days any charitable donor hoping for similar repayment – or just any giver whose motives are unclear – is said to be offering carità pelosa.

Meanwhile, avere il pelo sullo stomaco – literally, ‘to have hair on your stomach/heart’ means to be completely lacking in scruples and conscience, while avere il pelo/i peli sul cuore – ‘to have hairs on your heart’ means to be cold and insensitive.

One obvious interpretation is that having a body part insulated by hair makes it unfeeling and impervious to any criticism or insults.

Another is that various ancient Greek figures, including Aristomenes of Messene – who fought the Spartans – and the Greek rhetorician Hermogenes of Tarsus, were reputed to have been found with large and hairy hearts in their bodies when they died.

The theory is that at the time this was considered a sign of courage and admirable toughness, but over the course of centuries it came to stand for insensitivity and meanness.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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