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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

From beer to hairdryers: 10 Italian words that come from German

Italian is widely known to be tied to its Latin roots - closer than any other language, in fact. So it might come as a surprise to know that the Italian language also has Germanic influences. Here are ten Italian words that come from German.

From beer to hairdryers: 10 Italian words that come from German
Bier, birra, tom-ay-to, tom-ah-to. Photo: Roman Kraft/Unsplash

From household objects to food and drink, you might notice there’s a Germanic ring to certain Italian words.

In fact, if you’ve learned one of these languages, you’ll likely pick up certain vocabulary and grammar of the second one faster. Although German and Italian are from different branches of the linguistic tree, the more you look, the more similarities you see.

READ ALSO: Five easy Italian words with a curious history

Certain northern regions in Italy are bilingual Italian and German, such as South Tyrol (Alto Adige/Südtirol). So, although they may look and sound very different, these are two languages that live in close harmony.

Germany and Italy have had a big impact on each other over the centuries – economically, culturally and, as you’ll see, linguistically too.

Birra

The Italian word for beer comes from the German, Bier. It derives from the 16th century, after which ‘Bier’ got adopted by not just Italian, but also French (bière), English (beer) and Dutch (bier). However, some linguists say that, go much further back, and you’ll find that German actually got this word around the 6th century from vulgar Latin, spoken Latin: biber from the Latin bibere – ‘to drink’.

Bier or birra. Which came first? Photo: Stephan Mahlke/Unsplash

READ ALSO: The top ten Italian words that just don’t translate into English

Trampolo

From the German trampeln, which means – not surprisingly in English – to trample or stomp, this Italian word means ‘stilts’. Well, walking in stilts isn’t exactly graceful. Having two great planks of wood on your feet is much more likely to involve stomping about instead of light tiptoeing. The Italian word can also be used figuratively to mean that you’ve got long legs: ‘Certo che sei arrivato prima con quei trampoli!’ (Of course you got there first with those stilts!).

Phon

It has a slightly different spelling and the vowel sound is a little more open than the German Föhn, but this is almost a direct loan to mean ‘hairdryer’. The origin of this word comes from nature, rather than a plastic household object. A Föhn is a warm wind that appears on the leeward side of mountains, that is the sheltered side, for example the northern side of the Alps in southern Germany. Now you can close your eyes and think about Alpine scenes every time you have a blow dry.

Schermo

Meaning ‘screen’ in English, this word comes from the German Bildschirm, which comes from skerm or skirm – Old High German words meaning protection. They’re believed to have evolved in the 14th century. Who’d have thought that a centuries-old Germanic word for a cover or protection would lead to a term that features in our daily lives in the 21st century?

READ ALSO: Ten Italian words stolen into English and reinvented

Sala

Surely this melodic Italian word for ‘room’ or ‘hall’ can’t come from German? Well, it actually does, but the modern day German translation, Saal, pronounced ‘z-ahl’, makes it sound a bit more logical. Sala comes from the Middle Low German word, sal, to mean room, home or dwelling. This was an evolution from much further back when it was sel, which meant calm or quiet. You can see how the two ideas are linked. A sala today is a room in the house where you unwind and relax.

The Strudel: German or Italian? Photo: Fugzu/Flickr

Strudel

Just like the German word, this is usually a sweet dessert filled with apple, raisins and cinnamon. The recipe is said to date back to the 8th century and is thought to have assumed a variety of names and forms. It was once a famous recipe of Hungary and, thanks to the relations between the Ottoman and Austrian empires, it eventually passed to this German speaking country. In Italy it’s traditionally prepared in Alto Adige, Trentino, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia and is recognised as a traditional Italian product.

Snello

Eat too many Strudel and you won’t be snello for long. This Italian word to mean ‘slim’ or ‘trim’ stems from the German snel. That’s an Old High German term that meant to be active and quick – the current modern version in German is behende. Compare snello with this and they don’t look at all related, but look at the German schnell, which means ‘quick’, and the origins are clear.

Speck. Pronounced “Sh-pek” in German and “Sp-eck” in Italian. Caption: Wright brand bacon/Unsplash

Speck

Another food in Italian that is like its German counterpart and also not great for the waistline. Speck is bacon, perhaps not in the way British people know it, but a type of raw ham from the leg of pork, smoked and matured for a fairly short time. You’ll typically find it in the Italian and German regions of South Tyrol and Bavaria.

READ ALSO: 19 of your favourite Italian words (and some of ours)

Slitta

The areas where German and Italian overlap is often associated with snow-covered landscapes and winter sports, so it’s not so surprising that the Italian word for ‘sledge’ comes from German. Schlitten in German comes from the Middle and Old German sliten, which became gleiten in modern German – ‘to slide’.

Rubare

It turns out Italian is a linguistic thief, pinching from other languages. Rubare means to steal and ironically, Italian stole it from German. Stehlen or, more clearly similar, rauben in German, comes from the Old High German roubon, which meant to rob or to plunder.

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ITALIAN LANGUAGE

‘I’m not Onassis’: Seven things Italian dads say and what they mean

As world-famous promoters of tough love, Italian dads have a repertoire of phrases ready for 'creatively' scolding their children. Here are just a few of of their favourite lines.

'I'm not Onassis': Seven things Italian dads say and what they mean

From doors being carelessly left open to requests for unreasonably expensive items, there are countless things that are guaranteed to upset an Italian dad.   

And whatever the misdeed, they’ll have a snarky remark suited for the occasion. 

Here are just seven of the favourite set phrases you’re likely to hear an Italian dad come out with.

Ma ti sembro Onassis?

Usually uttered after a request to buy something indecently pricey, “Do I look like Onassis to you?” is one of the best comebacks in the Italian dad’s repertoire. 

Onassis was a Greek shipping magnate who established himself as one of the richest men on the planet in the 20th century. 

READ ALSO: Ten phrases to talk about cold and wet weather like a true Italian

We might never get to know where exactly Italian fathers’ obsession with the Greek tycoon stems from, but we are sure that countless generations of young Italians will continue to be reminded that their father isn’t nearly as opulent as Onassis. 

Countless alternative versions of this expression exist, including non sono la Banca d’Italia (“I’m not the Bank of Italy”) or those referring to Italy’s very own cavaliere, Silvio Berlusconi, such as: “non sei la figlia di Berlusconi” (“You’re not Berlusconi’s daughter”)

Io non vado a rubare!

Roughly translatable into English as “I don’t steal for a living!”, this is another parenting staple for requests involving the purchase of expensive items. 

The phrase is generally uttered with sheer indignation and accompanied by various expressions of outrage. 

Financial prudence is top of Italian dads’ priorities. Mess with that at your peril. 

Come ti ho fatto, ti distruggo.

The “I’ll destroy you just as easily as I made you” ultimatum is not used lightly but, whenever the circumstances call for it, the real Italian father will not hesitate to pull out this verbal ace.

Generally triggered by grave displays of disrespect or (very) bad behaviour, the expression is nothing short of a psychological warfare masterpiece.

READ ALSO: These are Italy’s most popular baby names

A family of four posing for a photo.

Italian dads are world-famous promoters of tough love but most also have a soft side to them. Photo by Jean-Pierre CLATOT / AFP

Questa casa non e’ un albergo.

Here’s one for the rogue adolescents having a hard time abiding by the sacred rules of the house, especially those turning up late for meals or getting home late at night. 

Italian fathers don’t like to beat around the bush, so any breach of the law of the land is met with a stark reality check: “This house is not a hotel”. 

The phrase might sometimes be followed by “You cannot come and go as you please” (Non puoi andare e tornare come ti pare e piace) but the first part is usually sufficient to get the message across.

Hai la coda?

Very few things upset Italian dads as much as an open door does. 

It doesn’t really matter what type of door – whether that be the front door, a bedroom door or even a car door – as long as it’s one that their unfailing judgement commands should be shut at all times.

READ ALSO: Puns and plot spoilers: How English movie titles are translated into Italian

As a result, any Italian boy or girl forgetting to close a door behind them should expect to be asked whether they have a tail (coda).

It nearly goes without saying, having a coda would theoretically explain why the guilty party didn’t close the door in question.

Perche’ no. 

If you’ve had the luck (or misfortune – you decide) to be raised by an Italian father, you’ll know this one all too well. 

When mercilessly turning down yet another one of his children’s requests, the quintessential Italian dad doesn’t remotely bother coming up with a plausible reason for doing so. 

It’s not happening “because I said no”. That’ll be all.

Ma da chi hai preso?

It’s only right for us to wrap up with Italian dads’ darkest moment of doubt. That’s when the actions of their children make them question whether they actually are the fathers of the misbehaving brats after all.

The phrase in question, which is roughly translatable into English as “Who did you get this from?”, is usually said with a mixture of dismay and bewilderment. 

The Italian father cannot fathom where his offspring’s disposition to reprehensible behaviour comes from but refuses to accept that his genes might be responsible. 

Several hours of silent introspection generally follow the utterance of this phrase.

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