Tomato sauce and condoms…

If you learned Italian as a second language then you surely know the joke I’m talking about.

For those who haven’t studied Italian, I thought I’d share this extremely cute post that Tracie P composed for one of our clients…

Buon weekend, yall! :)

Above: If you ask for “passato di pomodoro” without “preservativi” you might be greeted with a a funny stare…

We want you to be able to speak like an Italian, but we must warn you that there are some pretty easy ways to stick your foot in your mouth if you’re not careful.

Today’s Italian lesson is on false cognates, or “false friends.”

Cognates are words that basically sound the same in both languages in question. For example, there’s intelligente (intelligent) and farmacia (you guessed it, pharmacy). But don’t get caught asking for pepperoni on your pizza if what you want is cured sausage because what you’ll end up with is bell peppers. This is why it’s called a false cognate.

We don’t want you to get caught in a sticky situation where either hilarity or calamity can ensue, so here’s our top ten list of false friends:

1. Sensibile: it means sensitive, not sensible.

2. Preservativi: condoms (Watch out for this one! You don’t want to have a conversation about why condoms are bad for human consumption. Conservanti are preservatives in Italian.)

3. Baldo: courageous (You can describe to the local authorities that the taxi driver who ripped you off is baldo, but you won’t be referring to his head.)

4. Collegio: boarding school or dormitory (Explaining your educational background might make your new Italian friends think that you are very rich.)

5. Morbido: soft (Your little brother’s obsession with horror movies is… soft? I don’t understand!)

6. Genitori: This means parents. Get your mind out of the gutter.

7. Fabbrica: factory (Farm is fattoria and fabric is tessuto. Confused yet?)

8. Camera: room (Want to take a picture with your… room? Instead, make sure and ask for the macchina fotografica.)

9. Romanzo: novel (No, you do not want to have a great novel on your vacation, you want a storia d’amore.)

10. Educato: polite (Telling someone that their children are so educated when you mean polite is not an insult, but it may be confusing when referring to a toddler.)

5 thoughts on “Tomato sauce and condoms…

  1. Very funny. Also very good, particularly for an expat of old (or old expat, take your pick), like myself.
    How often do I fall into those false cognate traps! (particularly when jumping between the two languages on twitter)
    Not always easy to separate your sisters-in-law from cognate;-)
    Or your Parents from some other relative.
    Yes, we could go on forever. Or at least “per molto tempo”.

  2. Very nice, Tracie. There are a few places where I stumble (I know, I am Italian, but I think that doesn’t change the basic problem, right?). Here are two:
    – Libreria (not the library, but a bookstore)
    – Facolta’ (university department, not faculty – plut other meaning).

  3. Similarly when ordering “penne all puttanesca” be careful to annunciate the 2 n’s.
    In my early days speaking Italian I once ordered “pene alla puttanesca” which roughly translates as ” penises in the manner cooked by prostitutes”

    John Lowe

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