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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Giù di corda’

This phrase is for when the world has you on the ropes.

Italian expression of the day: 'Giù di corda'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

You may have heard that January is supposedly the most depressing month (some ideas on how to cope with that here).

If you've feeling the seasonal blues, today's expression is for you: giù di corda, literally 'down on string'.

It has nothing to do with stationery and everything to do with your mood. It's a figurative way to say you're listless, downhearted, out of sorts.

Essere or sentirsi giù di corda ('to be or to feel down') describes a general lack of energy or motivation, be it physical (in which case you might translate it as 'under the weather') or more commonly, mental ('down in the dumps').

Ti senti bene? Ti vedo un po' giù di corda.
Do you feel ok? You look a bit under the weather to me. 

Capitano a tutti momenti in cui siamo giù di corda.
Everyone gets down in the dumps now and then.

The image comes from clocks, of all things: in clocks that work by counterweight, when the corda (cord or chain) hangs low, the clock is out of momentum and needs rewinding. Just like you might do mid-winter.

Pulling the cord back up 'recharges' the clock – which is why dare la corda a un orologio ('to give a clock cord') means to wind it. 

But that's not to be confused with dare corda a qualcuno ('give someone cord'), which means to give them a bit more rope or let out their leash – i.e., to give them freedom to do or say what they choose.

Do you have an Italian phrase 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: ‘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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