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Italian word of the day: ‘Pennichella’

Here's a word you might need after lunch on a long, hot Italian summer afternoon.

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

If you’ve spent any time in Italy, no doubt you’ll have noticed that shutters are closed and streets are empty at mid-afternoon in many towns and villages – particularly on weekends, during the middle of summer, and in the scorching south of the country.

This is because, as we all know, lunch is of paramount importance in Italy – and so is having a rest afterwards.

One thing you might not realise though is just how many different terms exist in Italian for this afternoon nap.

These words will never come in more useful than in mid-August – particularly if your Italian family members, like mine, insist on eating lasagna or pasta al forno (any type of pasta dish baked in the oven) for lunch despite the temperature.

When the abbiocco sets in and your eyelids start to droop involuntarily after lunch, the specific term for this type of food-induced afternoon snooze is una pennichèlla (pronounced ‘pen-ny-kel-lah’).

– fare una pennichèlla

– to have a snooze

The Treccani dictionary notes that the word is derived from the Latin pendiculare and implies hanging or swaying, in reference to the way your head might drop to one side or the other when you fall asleep sitting in a chair.

If you go off to bed to lie down – possibly putting your pyjamas on – you’d probably call that un riposo (a rest) or riposino (a little rest) instead.

You could also use pisolino (a word of Tuscan origin, meaning ‘nap’) or sonnellino (a ‘little sleep’).

– vado a fare un pisolino

– I’m going for a nap

The Spanish word ‘siesta’ also works in any case – plus there are countless other terms for napping still used in local dialects across Italy.

While the idea of sleeping at midday might be viewed as rather lazy or indulgent in some parts of the world, in Italy that’s not the case. In fact, it’s often seen as beneficial and even essential for health, mood and productivity.

However, as Italians might warn you: non devi esagerare (don’t go overboard). The Italian version of Cosmopolitan magazine explains that ideally your pisolino shouldn’t last more than 30 minutes, while newspaper La Repubblica advises to keep naps to 20 minutes or less.

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 expression of the day: ‘Può darsi’

This might be just the Italian phrase you need.

Italian expression of the day: 'Può darsi'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Today’s expression is one I learned courtesy of my Italian in-laws, who frequently use it as a non-committal response to my suggestions.

This isn’t a phrase that ever came up in Italian class, and at first I wasn’t sure what they were saying. But from the context it was obvious that it meant something like “perhaps” or “possibly”.

– Forse sono in ritardo a causa del traffico

– Può darsi

– Maybe they’re late because of the traffic

– Possibly

When può darsi is used alone as a response, it’s not always clear just how likely the speaker thinks something is.

In fact, it can mean anything from “maybe” to “probably”.

Literally translated, the phrase doesn’t make much sense to English speakers. It’s a combination of può (the third-person singular form of the verb potere, ‘to be able‘) and darsi (the reflexive form of the verb dare ‘to give‘). It could be translated literally as “it can be given”.

As well as being used alone, this phrase can be used within sentences instead of forse (maybe) or magari, which is altogether more complicated.

With può darsi you’ll need to pay more attention to the grammar. But it’s worth mastering, as the phrase is very commonly used in spoken Italian.

Unlike forse and magari, sentences using può darsi need to be constructed in a particular way.

The formula you’ll need is può darsi + che + a verb in its subjunctive form.

Here’s an example of what that looks like:

– Può darsi che Gianni sia in ritardo.

– Maybe/it’s possible that Gianni is late

Compare that to the simpler structure of:

– Forse Gianni è in ritardo.

– Maybe Gianni is late

Both sentences effectively mean the same thing.

In the first example, the form of the verb ‘to be’ used is sia because we’re speaking in the subjunctive.

Understandably, language learners often want to run for the hills when they start hearing about the subjunctive mood (congiuntivo). But it doesn’t have to be intimidating.

Put very simply, it’s used whenever you’re not stating a fact. It expresses doubt, possibility, or uncertainty. It may also be used to talk about emotions, or when making suggestions – so for most normal everyday conversations, then.

So, while this is often taught as a more ‘advanced’ bit of grammar, you may want to get on friendly terms with it ASAP in order to partake in everyday chit-chat with Italians. Read a more detailed explanation of it here.

It pays to remember that with può darsi you don’t need to use the verb in the subjunctive form if you’re speaking in the future or conditional tense.

For example, you could also say:

Può darsi che Gianni sarà in ritardo

– Maybe Gianni will be late

Here, the verb refers to the future, so we used sarà – the future simple form of essere (to be).

And once you’ve got the hang of that, you can take things a step further by inserting the word anche (also) in between può and darsi to add emphasis.

Può anche darsi che sia un disastro totale.

– It may well be a total disaster

As mentioned earlier, this phrase is used for things you think are possible or likely.

If you’re a bit more certain about something, it would be better to use probabilmente or è molto probabile (‘probably’ or ‘it’s very likely’).

Will your Italian friends be impressed if you master the use of può darsi?

Sì, è molto probabile!

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