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Italian expression of the day: 'Al fresco'

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Italian expression of the day: 'Al fresco'
Photo: DepositPhotos
12:21 CET+01:00
Why telling Italians you're eating "al fresco" might make them think you're in big trouble.

Al fresco is a phrase we've all heard before. It's commonly used in English to mean "outdoors", and we normally use it to describe things like dinner or an aperitivo on a summer's evening, or a picnic in the park.

As in "we had a fabulous al fresco seafood dinner on holiday on the Amalfi Coast."

Since fresco can mean fresh, It sounds plausible that you'd be describing eating "in the fresh air."

But the adjective is usually used to mean cold, cool or chilly, or as a noun, fresco is a cold place of some sort.

- metti il vino al fresco

- put the wine in the fridge

And the phrase al fresco is also used figuratively to mean “in prison.”

- Lo misero al fresco

- They put him in jail

No wonder hearing about English-speaking visitors eating their dinner al fresco on holiday provokes a laugh or just a puzzled look from most Italians!

It comes from the phrase stare fresco. This literally translates as "stay cool", which isn't as positive as it might sound.

Figuratively it means to risk trouble, or wait in vain for something.

- Se continui così stai fresco

- If you carry on like that you're in trouble

- se ti aspetti che quello ti aiuti, stai fresco

- If you expect me to help you, you'll be disappointed

Clearly, a few wires got crossed somewhere along the way when the phrase al fresco was borrowed into English.

So how do you describe your lovely dinner without making Italians think you're in trouble - or in prison?

- cenare all'aria aperta

- have dinner outdoors (literally "in the fresh air")

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

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