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Italian word of the day: ‘Scioglilingua’

How do you say 'Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers' in Italian?

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

For non-native speakers of Italian, scioglilingua (‘sho-ylee-LING-guah’) is an autological word – that is, one that describes itself.

It means ‘tongue twister’, and with that gli sound that doesn’t exist in English, it’s not the easiest word to learn to pronounce.

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Lingua is the Italian for ‘tongue’ (or language), and sciogliere can mean any of to melt, dissolve, loosen, untie or release, so a scioglilingua is literally a ‘tongue melter’ or ‘tongue loosener’.

È un vero scioglilingua.
It’s a real tongue twister.

Questo acronimo mi sembra uno scioglilingua.
This acronym seems like a mouthful to me.

There’s just as wide a range of tongue twisters available in Italian as there are in English. If you want to test yourself (this is an especially good one for those trying to get their tongue around gli), try:

Sul tagliere l’aglio taglia: non tagliare la tovaglia. La tovaglia non è aglio: se la tagli fai uno sbaglio.

(‘On the chopping board, cut the garlic; don’t cut the tablecloth. The tablecloth isn’t garlic; if you cut it you’ve messed up’).

You can find some other tongue twisters for practicing your rapid-fire Italian here.

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You might see the words sciogliere and lingua used in combination in other contexts, none of which involve tongue twisters.

To deliberately sciogliere your own lingua can mean to loosen or ‘untie’ your tongue so that you speak fluently and with confidence.

The La Stampa newspaper, for example, suggests 7 trucchi per sciogliere la lingua durante l’esame orale – seven tricks to loosen your tongue during your oral exam.

Mi si scoglie la lingua quando sono con lei.
I become a smooth talker when I’m with her.

To sciogliere la lingua accidentally, however, can mean to let something slip out that perhaps shouldn’t have.

Il vino gli ha fatto sciogliere la lingua.
The wine loosened his tongue.

È stato il tipo di cena che scioglie la lingua.
It was the kind of dinner that loosens the tongue.

And if you sciogliere someone else’s lingua, that means you’re forcing them to reveal something to you, perhaps against their will.

Conosco diversi modi per fargli sciogliere la lingua.
I know various ways to make them speak.

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Una settimana al freddo ti ha sciolto la lingua?
Did a week out in the cold loosen your tongue?

So here’s your challenge for this week: see if you can get make your way round some Italian tongue twisters while still knowing when to hold your tongue.

See our complete Word of the Day archive here. 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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For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Delusione’

We hope this word doesn't disappoint.

Italian word of the day: 'Delusione'

Experiencing a delusione (deh-loo-zee-OH-neh) in Italian may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t mean you need escorting to the psychiatrist’s chair.

That’s because while delusione may look and sound like its English cousin ‘delusion’, the word actually means something quite different: disappointment.

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The two nouns actually have the same root in the Latin dēlūsiō, meaning a deceiving or deluding, and delūdō, meaning to deceive, dupe, or mock.

But while the English ‘delusion’ has hewn close to the original Latin meaning over the centuries, delusione at some point branched off to its current, quite different, definition.

There’s not much in the way of information about exactly when and how that happened, but it’s clearly a short associative hop from feeling ‘deceived’ or ‘duped’ by things turning out differently to what you’d expected to feeling ‘disappointed’.

Che delusione.
How disappointing.

La festa era, purtroppo, una grande delusione.
The party unfortunately was a big disappointment.

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The adjective for ‘disappointed’ is deluso for a single masculine subject, changing to delusa/delusi/deluse if the subject being described is feminine singular/masculine plural/feminine plural.

Era delusa da come era venuta la torta.
She was disappointed with how the cake turned out.

Devo dire che siamo davvero delusi dal fatto che siamo stati trattati in questo modo.
I have to say that we’re very disappointed to have been treated this way.

A word you’ll often see used in combination with deluso/a/i/e is rimanere (ree-man-EH-reh): rimanere deluso.

You might correctly recognise rimanere as meaning ‘to remain’, and wonder why we’d use that word here – but rimanere also has an alternative meaning along the lines of ‘to become’, ‘to get’, or simply ‘to be’.

For example, you can rimanere incinta (get pregnant), or rimanere ferito (get hurt or wounded, for example in a car accident).

It’s also very often used with emotions, usually those experienced in the moment rather than long-term ones: you can rimanere sorpreso (be surprised), rimanere triste (be sad), rimanere scioccato (be shocked)… and rimanere deluso (be disappointed).

Sono rimasto molto deluso quando mi ha detto di aver abbandonato la scuola.
I was very disappointed when she told me she had dropped out of school.

Siamo rimasti delusi dalle condizioni della stanza d’albergo al nostro arrivo.
We were disappointed by the condition of the hotel room when we arrived.

With that, we wish you a weekend free of delusioni (disappointments)!

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