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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
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Farla franca’

You won't get away with neglecting to learn this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Farla franca'

If you like Italian detective or murder mystery novels, sooner or later you’re bound to encounter the phrase farla franca: to get away with something.

Con Poirot alle calcagna, l’assassino non riuscirà mai a farla franca.
With Poirot on the scent, the killer will never get away with it.

Pensavi davvero di potermi derubare e farla franca?
You really thought you could steal from me and get away with it?

90 Day Fiance Ellie GIF by TLC

According to the Treccani dictionary, the expression comes from the bureaucratic use of the adjective franco to mean ‘free’, describing either people that are exempt from carrying out their duties (like off-duty naval officers) or goods that are exempt from tariffs and duties.

One of the first recorded uses of farla franca as a phrase comes from the early 14th century.

The Florentine historian Giovanni Villani wrote that in June 1322, the city of Florence celebrated the Feast of San Giovanni with a big fair, ‘la quale feciono franca’ for non-citizens – in other words, foreign merchants who came didn’t have to pay the usual taxes.

By the mid-1800s, the expression to mean escaping from some illicit act or risky endeavour without having to pay a penalty. In English (if you were being old-fashioned) you might talk in the same way about someone ‘getting off scot free’.

The la in farla franca is the part of the phrase that stands in for the ‘it’. It doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to fare but can go somewhere else, as long as it’s there.

Non possiamo permettere che la faccia franca.
We can’t let him get away with this.

Pensa di poterla fare franca.
She thinks she can get away with it.

With this phrase now in your repertoire, there’s no telling what you’ll get away with.

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

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