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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare la Cassandra’

We don't want to be a Cassandra about this, but you really should believe us about this phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Fare la Cassandra'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

You’re looking on as your neighbour climbs a ladder to do some jobs on their roof, but you notice they’re laden down with tools and objects. They’re wobbling unsteadily as they climb – and those steps don’t look overly secure anyway.

Up they go and you can already picture the flashing ambulance lights as they slip and flail all the way down to the bottom.

You want to express your concern for things going badly, as it’s just obvious to you that they will, but you don’t want to fare la Cassandra about it.

Non vorrei proprio fare la Cassandra, ma sei sicuro che la scala sia stabile?

I really don’t want to be a doom-monger, but are you sure that ladder’s stable?

Non voglio essere la Cassandra, ma questo non è di buon auspicio.

I don’t want to be a Debbie downer, but this doesn’t bode well.

So, being a Cassandra (either fare la Cassandra or essere la Cassandra works), is a rhetorical device to mean you predict or foretell disastrous and dramatic events or misfortunes without being believed. In other words, you’re an ignored prophet of (accurate) ominous happenings.

The phrase has its origins in Greek mythology – Cassandra was a beautiful young woman with the power to make prophecies, which were not believed.

She was the daughter of Priam, King of Troy and she was so captivating that even the god Apollo himself fell in love with her. To woo her, Apollo gave her the power of prophecy. He was the god of prophecy too, actually – as well as music, art and poetry.

The young Trojan princess, however, refused Apollo’s romantic advances, who, in response, took revenge by condemning her to predict terrible events without ever being believed.

‘To be a Cassandra’ therefore means to predict unpleasant situations, but for nobody to give you the time of day when you tell them that falling piece of rock is going to hit them on the head.

You can use the phrase to show you don’t want to be negative, but that you foresee problems. In this sense, it’s a bit like the English phrase, ‘rain on your parade’.

Senza voler fare la Cassandra, credo comunque che tu abbia ancora una lunga strada da fare.

I don’t want to rain on your parade, but I still think you have a very long way to go.

It’s even the namesake of a syndrome. In the field of psychology, the Cassandra syndrome is defined as the condition of those who have an overly pessimistic view of future events, whether these concern themselves or other people.

This leads to constantly predicting misfortunes for oneself or others.

Such a fatalistic view of the world can be irritating. If someone is always predicting the worst case scenario, you can tell them to stop being such a Cassandra about it.

Non fare la Cassandra.

Don’t be such a doomsayer/a Debbie downer.

So don’t be a negative Nelly, or a calamitous Cassandra, get learning this phrase and it’ll all work out just fine.

Do you have an 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 expression of the day: ‘Gita fuori porta’

No Italian summer would be complete without this phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Gita fuori porta'

As far as Italian summer traditions go, there’s only one thing more quintessentially Italian than the ‘pennica, the post-lunch nap which people from all corners of the country seem to effortlessly slip into with flawless poise and clockwork timing. That one thing is the ‘gita fuori porta’.

You might have already heard the expression on a couple of occasions, but don’t worry if you haven’t. Now that Ferragosto, Italy’s most deeply felt summer holiday, is only a few days away, listen out for it in your next conversation with Italians.

READ ALSO: Why the long August holidays are untouchable for Italians

So before we get into the ins and outs of how the ‘gita fuori porta’ works, what exactly does this phrase mean?

At first glance, the most logical translation might appear to be something like ‘a trip out of the door’. But the word ‘porta’ here has nothing to do with front doors (or houses, for that matter) as it refers instead to a city’s main entry gate.

To this day, the boundaries of most Italian towns are marked by ancient protective walls, generally dating back to Roman or medieval times. Though these walls no longer serve their original purpose, in many cases a town or city centre is still accessed via a number of gates, or ‘porte’.

So, a ‘gita fuori porta’ is a particularly Italian way of describing a trip out of town, whether that be to the seaside, in the countryside or in the mountains. 

Ti va di fare una gita fuori porta questo weekend?

Non troppo, tesoro. Fa troppo caldo.

Do you fancy a trip out of town this weekend?

Not really, honey. It’s too hot.

Marco e Maria stanno organizzando una gita fuori porta. Cosa ne pensi di unirti a loro?

Va bene, a patto che lo scegliamo noi il ristorante questa volta.

Marco and Maria are organising a trip out of town. What do you say we join them?

Okay, as long as we pick the restaurant this time around.

But what’s so special about a trip out of town done the Italian way?

Regardless of whether it’s a family trip or a trip with friends, the gita has a precise set of features that all Italians seem to be aware of from a very young age, almost as though  information on how to execute the proper gita came embedded in their own genetic setup.

Firstly, a gita is intended as a day trip, leaving no later than 10am and returning home by dinner time. Secondly, the journey to the chosen destination is always of short or medium length (i.e. rarely longer than two or two and half hours) and is made by car or motorcycle.  

Last but not least, the gita is always a hugely important social event and the smooth unfolding of the trip is seen as vitally important. As such, a number of rituals precede the days and hours before the momentous getaway.

These include: anxiously looking at weather forecasts and updates starting from over a week before the trip; concocting detailed back-up plans “just in case the weather experts get it wrong”; and finally, meticulously reading the reviews of any bar, restaurant or trattoria in a 50-kilometre radius of the chosen destination.

So, should you be tempted to join a trip all’italiana (Italian-style), make sure you do all of the above.

You might also hear the term ‘scampagnata’ used instead of ‘gita fuori porta’. 

Though the term may suggest otherwise – ‘campagna’ means countryside in Italian – ‘scampagnata’ has exactly the same meaning as ‘gita fuori porta’, thus referring to all possible sorts of day trip, not just those to the countryside.

Faremo una scampagnata ad Asolo per Ferragosto.

Ah, bello. Merita veramente una visita.

We’ll be in Asolo for Ferragosto.

Oh, nice. It’s definitely worth a visit.

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

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