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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Azzurro’

Why is blue Italy's favourite colour?

Italian word of the day: 'Azzurro'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

The national flag may be red, white and green, but for today at least, Italy has turned a different shade: azzurro, or ‘blue’, the colour of the triumphant Italian football team’s jerseys.

Click below to hear azzurro pronounced:

READ ALSO: ‘You need to eat more pasta’: The most Italian reactions to Italy’s Euro 2020 win

In fact, ‘blue’ doesn’t really do the word justice. It refers to a specific shade of deep, bright blue – ‘azure’, if you want to get specific. 

Both the Italian word and its English equivalent come from Sanskrit via Persian via Arabic, which gave European languages their word for a particular type of blue stone mined in what is now northern Afghanistan: lāzaward, which we know as ‘lapis lazuli’. 

You can see the same root in the Spanish word azul and the French azur

All of them refer to a particular type of blue: as the Italian dictionary defines it, rather poetically, “the colour of a clear sky (in between sky blue, which is lighter, and blue or deep blue, which is darker)”.

That all sounds better in Italian, which has an impressive number of words for one colour: from celeste (‘sky blue’ or ‘powder blue’) to ciano (‘cyan’ or ‘cornflower blue’) to turchino (‘deep blue’) to plain old blu (‘blue’).

Rather than trying to describe exactly which shade azzurro corresponds to, we’ll just show you a picture of the kit worn by Italy’s Azzurri – ‘the Blues’, as the national football team is known.

Here they are winning a certain trophy last night.

Photo by Catherine Ivill / POOL / AFP

In fact it’s not just footballers: almost every sportsperson who represents Italy wears blue. The custom dates back to the pre-World War Two days when Italy was still a monarchy ruled by the royal House of Savoy, whose traditional colour was azzurro Savoia, ‘Savoy blue‘.

Indeed, those of aristocratic descent are said to have sangue azzurro in their veins – just like we call people ‘blue-blooded’ in English.

These noble origins probably explain why blue is also the colour of the fairytale character Prince Charming, who Italians call il Principe Azzurro

‘Prince Blue’ is typically the hero who rides in on a white horse to save the day. Though as fans of gli Azzurri will be well aware after those penalties, not every hero wears blue.

Do you have a favourite 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

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

Can you fathom the meaning of this word?

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

If you haven’t yet found a proper Italian word to describe the unintelligible collection of dots, wonky lines and swirls that Italian doctors often nonchalantly passes off as a prescription, scarabocchio might do the trick.

Scarabocchio is the Italian equivalent of ‘scribble’ or ‘scrawl’ and it describes to any piece of writing or drawing whose meaning can’t be fathomed. 

Ho lasciato la lista della spesa sul tavolo!

Si, l’ho vista ma non ci ho capito niente. Era tutto uno scarabocchio…

I left the shopping list on the table!

Yes, I saw it but couldn’t understand any of it. It was all a scribble…

From a five-year-old’s abstract artworks to a colleague’s poor excuse for a handwritten note, you can use scarabocchio for pretty much anything – as long as it figures on a piece of paper. 

Though it is a bit of a mouthful (pronunciation available here), Italians love to use the word in daily conversations, especially so when it comes to mocking the unfortunate author of the scribble. 

Ti ho fatto uno schema per farti capire meglio.

Ma cos’e’ ‘sta cosa? Mi sembra proprio uno scarabocchio…

I’ve drawn a diagram to help you understand.

What on earth is this? It looks like a scrawl to me…

The word comes from the fusion of scarabeo (beetle) and the pejorative suffix -occhio (also used in ranocchio, meaning ‘ugly frog’, and marmocchio, meaning ‘bratty kid’). 

Though today’s scribbles may not resemble the shape of a beetle, they most likely did back in the days when poor handwriting skills would result in your quill creating circular blots of ink on the paper.

That’s why, to this day, Italians refer to scribbles as ‘ugly beetles’. 

Funnily enough, sgorbio, one of scarabocchio’s synonyms, also takes its name from an animal, namely the scorpion. But that’s a story for another time.

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

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