Here’s an exercise for you:
1.) The spaghetti is/are just right this time, not too soft, perfectly salted. Well done!
2.) Can we just have two pizza/pizzas and two wine/wines? Grazie!
This provoked by emails received from a variety of Ancient Greek enthusiasts, pointing out that I used the phrase ‘hoi polloi‘ incorrectly while promoting this week’s new ebook.
Apparently, the first part, the ‘hoi’, actually means ‘the’, so by saying ‘the hoi polloi’ I am revealing my state-school education’s deficiencies. Damn! And I try so hard to hide them.
To which I reply, in a crude and uneducated grunt, that that’s just bollocks.
The Wikipedia page sums it up nicely:
Some linguists argue that, given that hoi is a definite article, the phrase “the hoi polloi” is redundant, akin to saying “the the masses”. Others argue that this is inconsistent with other English loanwords. The word “alcohol”, for instance, derives from the Arabic al-kuhl, al being an article, yet “the alcohol” is universally accepted as good grammar.
The key concept here is ‘loanwords’, so words that are ‘borrowed’ from another language. The Wikipedia quote suggests that there might be an actual debate about this, but if so, it’s only between pedants and everyone else.
For, in my experience, BORROWED WORDS TAKE THE GRAMMAR OF THE BORROWING LANGUAGE. Certainly that’s true of all the languages I’m familar with, and logically it’ll be true for the rest, too. After all, a speaker of language X can reasonably be expected to be familiar with the grammar patterns of language X, but assuming they know the grammar of language Y, from which expression Z has been borrowed, just isn’t logical.
Languages don’t work like that, unless of course we’re talking ‘markers’, familiar only to the elite, and so serving to self-identify (see Monday’s rant about ‘public schools’.)
So, one pizza, two pizzas. Not two pizze. Anyone who says, while speaking English, ‘two pizze’ is so far up themselves as to risk meeting chewed-up doughy lumps coming the other way.
Italians totally do this too, though in their own particular way. Think of ‘English’ words in common use in Italian (there are loads of them in I.T. for instance – computer, mouse, etc.) They typically have no plural conjugation at all, which saves the Italian borrowers having to worry about which final vowel might be correct.
‘Spaghetti’ in English is a mass noun, like rice and flour, so is typically conjugated as if it were singular (‘is’ not ‘are’, ‘does’ rather than ‘do’). But in Italian, note the final ‘i’, which makes it a plural.
Yes, you can say ‘uno spaghetto’ (You have a spaghetto in your hair. Shall I pick it out for you? No, it’s no problem at all!) There’s even an idiom (prendere uno spaghetto) meaning something like ‘go limp with fear’.
But will so displaying my erudition while on a date endear me to a dinner companion with ‘a piece of spaghetti’ in their hair?
“Come ravish me, you expensively-educated person you”, they’ll whisper seductively.
Seems unlikely. No one likes a smartarse.
‘The hoi polloi’ is standard usage in English (notice I’m not using the word ‘correct’, which is meaningless), as its synonym ‘the proles‘ would be. That’s another borrowed word, incidentally, which in the Latin from which it originates would, I assume, have been a mass noun, so singular. Something like ‘the working class’ (singular) or ‘the masses’ (plural, but referring to the exact same thing!)
Spaghetti is, two pizzas, and if you don’t agree then fine, but don’t waste my time arguing the point, please.
Unless you want to do it by commenting on this article, of course. Comments are always welcome, even pedantic ones. Comment by clicking through to the website, locating the article you want to comment on, scrolling down to the end, and filling in the comments box. Your email is required but won’t be published. Comments are pre-moderated, which means that I have to weed out the spam before publishing them. Patience, please, pedants.
I’m being provocative, for a change.
First with the English, as ‘the grammar book’, font of much nonsense, might state (depending on whether it’s ‘proscriptive’ or ‘descriptive’) that wine is a mass noun. Therefore, one may not ask for two wines, but must instead request two ‘glasses of wine’.
Which is wrong because, as any English speaker with ears will know, people do this all the time: two cokes, two coffees, two shakes, two champagnes (I deliberately skipped the capital letter in that last one, don’t email.)
Italians will also be outraged, though for a different reason. ‘Everyone knows’, I’m frequently told, that you can’t drink wine with pizza, only beer!!
A million times have I explained to Italians that they’ve been taken in by a marketing construct, one which serves beer producers and the owners of pizzerias (like my brother-in-law).
Draft beer is easy to store, fast to serve, and most importantly HAS A HUGE MARK UP COMPARED TO WINE, making it multiple times more profitable. And there’s no need to employ servers who know about wine, which cuts costs. And the gullible feel happy that they know the ‘rule’. Win, win, win.
Yet, people in other countries drink wine with pizza, I explain. More or less everywhere, in fact. Pizza is Italian, wine is Italian, ergo… Don’t believe me? Try Googling ‘which wine with pizza?’ There are loads of great, well-informed webpages with ideas.
And the irony? The people I argue with – the ones drinking beer with their pizza – don’t even like the stuff! They’re all spritz-drinkers. A pint? How proletarian! No, thank you very much.
Personally I’ll always go for the cheapest stuff, the ‘vino della casa’, especially if it’s ‘fuso’, so poured from a tap into carafes of various sizes (the more you drink the less it costs!)
A litre of cheap red costs about the same as ‘una birra media’ in an Italian pizzeria, but contains more than twice as much liquid, and approximately double (the) alcohol content. What’s not to like?
Besides, it goes very nicely with pizza.
P.S. New eBook ‘Easy Reader’ -25%
Don’t forget this week’s new ‘easy reader’ ebook, which is 25% off the usual price, but only until Sunday!!
What’s it about? Well, thousands of Italian words derive from Ancient Greek, lots of them with meanings that are specific to medical, scientific or academic fields, but many others in day-to-day use (in English, too!)
This short but fascinating ebook offers a quick cultural/linguistic catch-up for students who didn’t attend an Italian ‘liceo classico’, as the author presumably did.
Here, important Ancient Greek words are grouped in eight topic areas, for example Chapter 5, which focuses on ‘Relazioni e sentimenti’. You’ll be familiar, of course, with Éros, Filía, Phóbos, and Páthos, but what of Gaméo?
“Il matrimonio era una delle istituzioni su cui si basava la società greca. Di solito le ragazze si sposavano a partire dai dodici anni, mentre i ragazzi qualche anno più tardi. Il verbo gaméo (γαμέω) significa “sposarsi”. Da questo derivano parole come “monogamia” e “poligamia”. Una persona monogama è sposata con un unico (mónos) individuo, mentre una poligama ha molti (polys) mariti o mogli.”
Motivating Italian reading and listening practice, memorable insights into Italian (and English) vocabulary, as well as a rich source of triva with which to quiz family, friends, or colleagues!
Check out the free sample chapter to verify whether this material is suitable for your current level in Italian.
- .pdf e-book (+ audio available free online)
- .mobi (Kindle-compatible) and .epub (other ebook readers) available on request at no extra charge – just add a note to the order form or email us
- 8 chapters to read and listen to
- At the end, some exercises to check what you’ve learnt!
- Suitable for students at intermediate level or above
- Download your Free Sample Chapter (.pdf)
How do I access my ebook?
When your order is ‘completed’ (normally immediately after your payment), a download link will be automatically emailed to you. It’s valid for 7 days and 3 download attempts so please save a copy of the .pdf ebook in a safe place. Other versions of the ebook, where available, cannot be downloaded but will be emailed to people who request them. There’s a space to do that on the order form – where it says Additional information, Order notes (optional). If you forget, or if you have problems downloading the .pdf, don’t worry! Email us at the address on the website and we’ll help. Also, why not check out our FAQ?
And here’s the usual reminder to read/listen to Tuesday’s FREE bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news, which subscribers should have received yesterday (if not, check your spam!)
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