While you’re right to be sceptical of everything you read at this time of year, I promise today’s Italian expression isn’t made up.
I imagined that il pesce d’aprile, or ‘April’s fish’, came from the idea of ‘baiting’ people or ‘fishing’ for responses with joke articles or announcements and seeing if they’d ‘bite’.
After all, the Italian verb abboccare means ‘to bite, or to take the bait’ and figuratively it also means ‘to be fooled, deceived, or taken in’, just like in English. It’s rooted in the word bocca, or mouth.
Ha abboccato e non ha avuto alcun sospetto!
He fell for it and had no idea!
But no. I’m told the name ‘pesce d’aprile‘ actually comes from a common prank that involves sticking a drawing of a pesciolino (‘little fish’) onto the back of an unsuspecting victim.
Then everyone else asks if they’ve seen ‘April’s fish’ and makes jokes about that person – when, of course, the victim doesn’t know they’re ‘it’.
– L’hai visto? (Have you seen him/her?)
– Chi? (Who?)
– Il pesce d’Aprile! (April’s fish!)
It sounds a bit quaint, but taping a fish onto someone’s back is still something people – most likely children – do in Italy nowadays
It’s not clear where the custom comes from: there are a few different theories, ranging from Christian traditions around eating (or avoiding) fish on certain holy days to the idea that fishermen who returned to port without a catch at this time of year might have been the object of mockery. No one knows for sure.
But if someone tries to wind you up – or tape a fish to your back – in Italy tomorrow, be prepared.
You could say:
non mi prendi in giro
You don’t fool me
Io non ci credo mica.
I don’t believe that at all.
Italy isn’t the only country to have a fishy April Fool’s Day. In France and French-speaking areas of Belgium, Switzerland and Canada, it’s the poisson d’avril.
See our complete Word of the Day archive here.
Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.