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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Per nulla’

This phrase isn't tricky in the least, once you get the hang of it.

Italian expression of the day: 'Per nulla'
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How do you say no, nope, negative, not on your life, not in the least, not at all, not one bit?

In Italian there are various ways – many of them non-verbal – but let's look at a particularly useful phrase: per nulla.

It means, literally, 'for nothing': nulla is just another way of saying niente, 'nothing'. But usually when you add per – and you can also say per niente in much the same way, if you prefer – it becomes the equivalent of 'not at all', 'not one bit'.

– Sei soddisfatto?
– No, per nulla!

– Are you satisfied?
– Not one bit!

You can use it to give an emphatic 'no!' (as above), or add it to a negative statement to underline just how much you really mean that 'not' – like saying 'not in the least'.

Questo posto non mi piace per nulla.
I don't like this place at all.

Non è vero per nulla.
That's not true in the least.

While it's particularly emphatic at the end of a sentence, it doesn't have to go there. You can just as well put it before whatever you're saying isn't the case – usually an adjective – which changes the tone to a more measured 'by no means'.

La domanda non è per nulla nuova.
The question is by no means new.

Sarà un'impresa difficile ma per nulla impossibile.
It will be a difficult undertaking, but by no means impossible.

And then there are times when per nulla does actually mean 'for nothing', usually in the much same ways we'd say it in English.

Non per nulla la chiamano la Città Eterna.
Not for nothing is it called the Eternal City.

Te lo cedo per nulla.
I'll give it to you for nothing (i.e. cheaply or free).

Non me lo perderei per nulla al mondo.
I wouldn't miss it for (anything in) the world.

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

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Farla franca’

You won't get away with neglecting to learn this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Farla franca'

If you like Italian detective or murder mystery novels, sooner or later you’re bound to encounter the phrase farla franca: to get away with something.

Con Poirot alle calcagna, l’assassino non riuscirà mai a farla franca.
With Poirot on the scent, the killer will never get away with it.

Pensavi davvero di potermi derubare e farla franca?
You really thought you could steal from me and get away with it?

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According to the Treccani dictionary, the expression comes from the bureaucratic use of the adjective franco to mean ‘free’, describing either people that are exempt from carrying out their duties (like off-duty naval officers) or goods that are exempt from tariffs and duties.

One of the first recorded uses of farla franca as a phrase comes from the early 14th century.

The Florentine historian Giovanni Villani wrote that in June 1322, the city of Florence celebrated the Feast of San Giovanni with a big fair, ‘la quale feciono franca‘ for non-citizens – in other words, foreign merchants who came didn’t have to pay the usual taxes.

By the mid-1800s, the expression to mean escaping from some illicit act or risky endeavour without having to pay a penalty. In English (if you were being old-fashioned) you might talk in the same way about someone ‘getting off scot free’.

The la in farla franca is the part of the phrase that stands in for the ‘it’. It doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to fare but can go somewhere else, as long as it’s there.

Non possiamo permettere che la faccia franca.
We can’t let him get away with this.

Pensa di poterla fare franca.
She thinks she can get away with it.

With this phrase now in your repertoire, there’s no telling what you’ll get away with.

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

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