[Thoughts on the Table – 90] Italian Words Gone Wrong – Mistakes on the Menu

This unusual episode is the audio version of the article Italian Words Gone Wrong – 6 Mistakes Native Italians Don’t Make.

Despite the broad title, the post focuses on the types of mistakes that are commonly found on the menus of Italian restaurants outside of Italy.

This spoken version of course adds the pronunciation of the Italian words used as examples. I hope this can be useful to some readers, rather than more confusing 🙂 Thanks for listening!

The music in the episode is by www.purple-planet.com.

Paolo Rigiroli

Author: Paolo Rigiroli

Now based in the UK, Paolo is an Italian who lived in Canada for nearly 18 years and blogs about Italian food and its many aberrations.

4 thoughts on “[Thoughts on the Table – 90] Italian Words Gone Wrong – Mistakes on the Menu”

  1. I loved this Paolo, and it sets my teeth on edge to read an “Italian” menu here that is filled with mistakes. But it reminds me of a conversation Mark and I had with our Italian-born neighbors (who still live part-time in Milano and Carrara). We were discussing zucchini vs. zucchine, and they started arguing – and then got out their dictionaries. Apparently, there is a region (it may be their particular region of Tuscany) in which zucchini is correct. Have you ever heard this? (They confirmed it in their dictionaries.)

    1. Thanks, David! Yes, this may very well be the real origin of the word zucchini and I should probably add it to the article! I confirmed by consulting a reputable Italian dictionary (Treccani) that zucchina (feminine noun in Italian) can be called zucchino (masculine) in Tuscany or at least parts of Tuscany. And the plural of zucchino is of course zucchini. It’s dialectal, however, but could have had an impact on the English name zucchini. In the UK we call them courgettes, avoiding the problem altogether!

  2. I enjoyed this. A lot. I was reassured to learn from your podcast that sometimes the word “panino” can be a generic term for bread. When I was a college kid in Rome in 1974, asking for a panino would invariably produce a bread roll, without exception a five-lobed rosetta. I never heard “panino” used for a sandwich until perhaps twenty years later, in America, and found it confusing (to say nothing of hearing the plural used when singular is intended just grating). I laughed the first time I saw “shrimp scampi” on a menu.
    Very loosely food-related:
    I was taught that if I preferred an outdoor table at a restaurant, I should ask for a table “al aperto,” in the open air. We were taught told that “al fresco” or “alfresco” meant permission for a prison inmate to take the air in the prison yard. Does this distinction sound familiar?

    1. I’m glad, Mark! Yes, in the area where I grew up, the bread roll is a panino. So, in a bakery, you’d say: “vorrei cinque panini”. I’m getting hungry just typing this. But in a coffee bar, if you say “vorrei un panino” they will assume “panino imbottito”, filled bread roll, and ask you what you would want in it.

      About al fresco, I can say that I’ve never used it to ask for a table outside, preferring as you said “all’aperto”. Fresco means “fresh” and I could use it for instance to say, I love spending time “al fresco” in my basement. I’m also familiar with “al fresco” being jargon for “in jail” – but my explanation wasn’t as much referred to inmates being allowed one hr of fresh air, but that jail cells are likely “fresh” because have thick walls and small or no windows. Great question! I’d like to see what other Italians think… 🙂

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