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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Al fresco’

Here's why you probably won't want to tell Italians you're eating "al fresco" this summer.

Italian expression of the day: 'Al fresco'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Al fresco is a phrase we’ve all heard before. It’s used in English to mean “outdoors”, and is seen particularly often in British newspapers, where it pops up in every article about picnics, barbecues, or outdoor dining of any sort.

In fact, people might think eating al fresco is very common in Italy – as in “we had a fabulous al fresco seafood dinner on holiday on the Amalfi Coast.”

But Italians wouldn’t agree – and might be slightly alarmed.

As you may have guessed, the meaning of the phrase al fresco changed somewhat when we borrowed it into English.

Since the Italian word 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 kind.

– metti il vino al fresco

– put the wine in the fridge

More worryingly, the phrase al fresco is also used figuratively to mean “in prison.”

– Lo misero al fresco

– They put him in jail

So it’s no wonder that English-speaking visitors talking about eating their dinner al fresco can provoke a laugh or just a puzzled look from Italians.

It comes from the phrase stare fresco. This literally translates as “stay cool”, but figuratively it means to risk getting into trouble, or to 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

READ ALSO: Ten Italian words stolen into English and reinvented

Clearly a few wires got crossed somewhere along the way when the phrase al fresco made its way into the English language.

So how do you describe your lovely outdoor meal without making Italians think you’re in some sort of trouble?

You could try:

– pranzare all’aperto

– to eat lunch outside

– cenare all’aria aperta

– to have dinner outdoors 

Which we think sounds even nicer.

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

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare una filippica’

When your best Italian mate is giving you an earful for being a couple of minutes late, tell him to quit the ‘philippic’.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare una filippica’

As far as idioms go, fare una filippica is one of the most popular ones used in Italian television and print media. Presenters and journalists use it every day as a way to give colour and panache to their reports.

But what is a filippica (literally, ‘philippic’ in English) and, above all, what does it mean to make one?

In Italian, the word filippica is generally used to describe a very impassioned invective: a tongue-lashing, if you will, aimed at a political adversary or any other opponent.

So fare una filippica means having a go at someone, and in a rather ferocious and hostile way.

Let’s have a look at some examples:

Il capo dell’opposizione ha fatto una filippica contro l’immobilità del governo nei confronti delle famiglie a basso reddito.

The head of the opposition harshly criticised the government’s inertia towards low-income families.

Or:

L’allenatore ha fatto una filippica contro i tifosi della squadra ospite per il loro comportamento sugli spalti.

The coach condemned the away side’s fans for their behaviour on the stands.

As you can see, on most occasions, the expression is followed by contro (‘against’) plus the person or people the invective is directed at. 

As previously mentioned, the expression is widely used in broadcast and print media. However, it is also frequently used in colloquial Italian as a way to mock someone who is being overly dramatic or getting unreasonably upset about trivial matters.

For instance:

Sei sempre in ritardo. Sei insopportabile.
Sono solo due minuti. Non farmi una filippica…

You’re always late. You’re insufferable.
It’s just a couple of minutes. Don’t you dare have a go at me…

So, now that you have a basic grasp of how (and when) to use the idiom, you may also be interested in knowing where it comes from. 

Like most Italian idioms, fare una filippica originated in the classical age.

Notably the expression dates back to 351 BC, when the independence of Athens, the richest and most technologically advanced city-state in ancient Greece, was being threatened by the expansionist designs of Philip II, king of Macedon.

Being conscious of the risks Macedon posed to his city’s autonomy, Athenian intellectual and statesman Demosthenes famously gave a number of fervid political speeches aimed at rallying his fellow citizens against Philip II and calling for a mobilisation of Athens’ military forces.

Such orations, whose eloquence and rhetoric are admired to this very day, were known as ‘philippics’ (‘filippiche’ in Italian), hence the very peculiar expression which, through the centuries, has made it all the way into modern Italian.

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

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