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 an Italian phrase we’ve all heard before. It’s used in English to mean ‘outdoors’, perhaps most often in British media, where it pops up in every article about picnics, barbecues, or outdoor dining or entertaining of any sort.

No wonder then that so many English speakers think eating al fresco is common in Italy, as in: ‘we had a fabulous al fresco seafood dinner on holiday on the Amalfi Coast.’

READ ALSO: Ten Italian words stolen into English and reinvented

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’.

The adjective is usually used to mean cold, cool or chilly. As a noun, though, fresco is used to mean a cold place of some kind. A fridge, for example.

– metti il vino al fresco

– put the wine in the fridge

More worryingly, the phrase al fresco may also be used figuratively to mean ‘in prison’.

– Lo misero al fresco

– They put him in jail

This usage comes from the phrase stare fresco, which 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.

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

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 much nicer, anyway.

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: ‘Così’

This Italian word is so useful to know.

Italian word of the day: 'Così'

The Italian language features plenty of very versatile little words, like allora, ecco, quindi, insomma, cioè, and così, which have a multitude of uses and come in handy in all sorts of situations.

Helpfully, as Italian native speakers will demonstrate during almost any phone call, these words can also be used as fillers at times when you’re not sure what to say – but are still talking anyhow:

Ecco, così è, così siamo messi, così è andata

There you go, that’s the way it is, that’s where we are, that’s how it went

Today’s word might just be the most versatile of them all.

Così is a word that you’ll hear used all the time in spoken Italian, in all sorts of different ways. Here are a couple that you’ve probably heard or used yourself:

È così – That’s how it is (literally ‘it is so’)

Basta cosi? – Is that all?

Per così dire – so to speak/as it were

Non si fa così – don’t do that/that’s not cool (literally ‘it’s not done like that’)

As you can probably tell, così in its most common usages translates roughly into English as so, thus, such, that, or like this.

You pronounce it ‘koh-zee’ – click here to hear some examples.

Much like the English ‘that’, così can also be used to add emphasis, as in così tanto (‘so much’) or così poco (so little), or to modify an adjective:

Non è così comune

It’s not that common

It’s used to mean ‘so’ as in ‘therefore’:

C’era sciopero dei treni, così non siamo potuti partire.

There was a train strike, so we couldn’t leave.

You could even use it like this to stress how strongly you feel:

Siamo così così dispiaciuti per ieri sera.

We’re so, so sorry for last night

But normally, when you see it doubled up, it has a different meaning.

Così così is the equivalent of ‘so-so’ in English, which means ‘not good, not bad’ – but is the sort of phrase you might euphemistically use to indicate that you’re not feeling well, or didn’t like something very much.

Com’era il film? 

Così così… ho visto di meglio.

How was the film? 

So-so, I’ve seen better.

(Here, you could also use the word insomma instead of così così)

Le case sono mantenuti solo così così.

The houses aren’t very well maintained.

These are just a few of the many possible uses of così, but we’re sure you can see why this is a word every Italian learner should be familiar with. 

È così utile sapere! (It’s so useful to know)

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