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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Meno male’

Thank goodness for this phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Meno male'
Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Feel like the studying’s paid off and you’re finally getting all this Italian vocab to stick? 

Meno male, we might tell you: ‘just as well’. Click here to hear it pronounced.

This common expression (literally: ‘less bad’) is a way to welcome a piece of information, while implying that the alternative would be a whole lot worse.

You can translate it as anything from ‘just as well’ to ‘fortunately’ to ‘thank goodness’.

Sei tornato! Meno male!
You’re back! Thank goodness!

You can say it on its own, like in the example above, or specify what you’re thankful for by adding che.

Meno male che stai bene.
It’s a good job you’re ok.

It expresses gladness, gratitude, but most of all, relief. That’s why you might hear people use with a big sigh and a wipe of the forehead, like we would say: ‘phew!’

The prize for the most notorious (and cringeworthy) usage of this phrase in Italy goes to the song Meno male che Silvio c’e (‘Thank goodness for Silvio’) by Andrea Vantini, used in ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s campaigning with former party Popolo della Libertà.

Finally, note the spelling: while you might see it written as one word by some, in fact it’s most definitely two.

Meno male we checked the dictionary, eh?

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 word of the day ‘Peloso’

Here's why being 'hairy' in Italian isn't necessarily a good thing...

Italian word of the day 'Peloso'

You’d expect a dog or cat to be peloso/a – furry, fluffy or shaggy – but what about a human who’s peloso (pronunciation here)?

It might just refer to someone who’s hairy, or a hairy body part.

È una giornata fredda per fare un tuffo in mare ma Davide non deve preoccuparsi, guardate quant’è peloso!
It’s a cold day for a dip in the sea but Davide doesn’t need to worry, look how hairy he is!

Le mie sopracciglia pelose le ho prese da mia madre.
I got my furry eyebrows from my mother.

But it can also mean someone who’s artful and wily – the Treccani dictionary says the word defines someone who has their own interests at heart and lacks moral scruples.

Non fidatevi di Claudio, è la persona più pelosa e insincera che abbia mai conosciuto.
Don’t trust Claudio, he’s the most self-interested and insincere person I’ve ever met.

Where did the idea of a sly, self-serving person being ‘hairy’ come from?

A video explainer on the Repubblica news site offers some clues: it discusses the origins of the phrase carità pelosa, meaning a type of charity or help offered by a donor whose underlying motives are selfish.

According to presenter Stefano Massini, the expression refers all the way back to the 11th century, when William the Conqueror (often referred to as Giuliano/Gugliemo il Bastardo, ‘William the Bastard’, in Italian) sought the blessing of Pope Alexander II for his 1066 invasion of England.

Alexander agreed to support William’s military campaign, and was said to have sent the warrior a gold ring along with a few hairs from the beard of St. Peter as a token of his approval.

The invasion was – famously – successful, and to thank to the pope, William sent him a vast array of riches plundered from his new kingdom, worth far more than Alexander’s initial gift of a piece of jewellery and a few hairs.

While we can’t know that Alexander II expected such a high return on investment, these days any charitable donor hoping for similar repayment – or just any giver whose motives are unclear – is said to be offering carità pelosa.

Meanwhile, avere il pelo sullo stomaco – literally, ‘to have hair on your stomach/heart’ means to be completely lacking in scruples and conscience, while avere il pelo/i peli sul cuore – ‘to have hairs on your heart’ means to be cold and insensitive.

One obvious interpretation is that having a body part insulated by hair makes it unfeeling and impervious to any criticism or insults.

Another is that various ancient Greek figures, including Aristomenes of Messene – who fought the Spartans – and the Greek rhetorician Hermogenes of Tarsus, were reputed to have been found with large and hairy hearts in their bodies when they died.

The theory is that at the time this was considered a sign of courage and admirable toughness, but over the course of centuries it came to stand for insensitivity and meanness.

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

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