Type to search

The ‘Italian’ dialects least understood by Italians


As in past October issues, the Herald will dedicate this issue’s lesson to Halloween. Halloween has become a big celebration in Italy. Although it is regarded by some as another invasion of American culture into Italy, its origins go back to Europe and the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated Nov. 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Now getting back to modern times and the secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating, this lesson is for those of you who celebrate Halloween and want to throw some Italian into the mix.

Here are some common seasonal expressions in Italian. Buon Divertimento! (Enjoy!)

Halloween-among non-celebrants (La Vigilia d’Ogni Santo) Halloween

Zucca* – Pumpkin

Festeggiamo! – Let’s party!

Intagliamo la zucca! – Let’s carve the pumpkin!

Indossiamo un costume. – We dress up in costume.

Il gatto nero – Black cat

Lo scheletro – Skeleton

Il fantasma – Ghost

Il pipistrello – Bat

Il ragno – Spider

La ragnatela – Spiderweb

Autunno – Autumn

La maschera – Mask

Lupo mannaro – Werewolf

La crostata di zucca** – Pumpkin pie

Il Vampiro – Vampire

La caramella – Candy

La mela caramellata** – Candied apple

Il sidro di mela – Apple cider

La strega*** – Witch

Ossa di morte**** – Bones of the dead

*Zucca derives from the Italian word “zucchina” (squash or courgette) used to best define our American pumpkin associated with the fall season. In its purest form “zucca” as in the phrase “testa di zucca,” refers to person who lacks intelligence and/or common sense. However, for the purpose of describing the pumpkin, removing the “hin” from” zucchina,” gives the meaning of a large squash, which is what a pumpkin really is.

**These fall dessert delicacies haven’t caught on yet in the “old country,” but given the path to acceptance hot dogs, fries, and hamburgers have taken, it won’t be long before these items, too, will be available at the neighborhood supermercato.

***Unfortunately, the use of the witch symbolism at Halloween has also been included in Italian celebrations. Unfortunate in that the famous witch, La Befana, the good Epiphany Witch is slowly taking a back seat to the Santa Claus as the gift giver of the Christmas holiday season. Equating witches to the spooky mystique of Halloween might be another step away from the beautiful Italian celebration of Epiphany.

****These are Italian seasonal cookies. Kids as well as adults who prefer the religious “Day of the Dead” over Halloween find their sweet treat in this traditional Italian favorite.

This month’s proverb
This month’s proverb is from Sardinia:
Sardu: Ama si cheres essere amadu.
Italiano: Ama se vuoi essere amato
English translation: If you want to be loved, love.

This month’s falso amico
It is notizie. It does not mean notice as the English. It means news. In Italian notice translates as avviso, Leggi questo avviso sull’albo! Look at this notice on the bulletin board! Le notizie sono buone. The news is good!

Stay up-to-date with our free email newsletter

Keep a pulse on local food, art, and entertainment content when you join our Italian-American Herald Newsletter.