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Italian expression of the day: 'Partire in quarta'

The Local Italy
The Local Italy - [email protected] • 8 Mar, 2023 Updated Wed 8 Mar 2023 15:24 CEST
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Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

We're kicking it into high gear with this phrase.

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If you've ever seen someone enter into an activity or project with particular gusto, in Italian you might say they're partendo in quarta - literally, 'starting in fourth'.

It means going into something with strong energy, momentum, and/or enthusiasm; going full steam ahead, hitting the ground running.

Partiamo in quarta con questo nuovo progetto.
We're hitting the ground running with this new project.

Mi raccomando, non partire in quarta, non sappiamo ancora nulla.
Please, don't get ahead of yourself, we still don't know anything yet.

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You'll occasionally see the expression used with an alternative verb such as andare or saltare, but partire is by far the most common.

Don't forget to that partire takes essere as its auxiliary, so you'll need to conjugate accordingly and make the past participle agree with the subject when you use the expression in the past tense.

Scusami se sono partita in quarta con tutte queste domande, sono solo un po' emozionata.
Sorry if I came on really strong with all these questions, I'm just a bit excited.

It would be logical to assume the expression is shorthand for 'starting in fourth gear', employing an automotive metaphor, and this is probably right - but its origins have been a topic of hot debate among linguistic authorities.

The Accademia della Crusca, Italy's foremost linguistic academy, notes in a lengthy discourse on the subject that some experts have argued it's based on a fencing term: the quarte position, associated with a later-stage attack.

But the Treccani dictionary, citing the earliest recorded instances of the phrase partire in quarta and not finding any that occur before 1905, comes down on the automotive metaphor side; and the Accademia says it tends to agree.

Whichever side you're on, once you've incorporated this phrase intro your lexicon, we're sure you'll be off to the races.

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

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The Local Italy 2023/03/08 15:24

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