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Nine handy Venetian words to use on your next trip to Venice

If you're planning to travel to Venice, it's well worth learning a bit about the local dialect before you go.

Nine handy Venetian words to use on your next trip to Venice
Venetian canal. Photo: SarahTz/Flickr

Natives of Venice have a strong sense of regional identity; this is clear in the support for independence movements, and the many organizations which have been set up to safeguard the culture and traditions of this beautiful city.

The Venetian language is an important part of this identity, and most of the five million people living in the Veneto region understand it.

A man wears a T-shirt reading '100 percent Venetian' during a protest against overcrowding. Photo: AFP

At one point, Venetian was a strong contender to become the official national language of Italy, thanks to Venice’s cultural and economic prestige as a city, and the fact that important literary works had been written in the language. And although Florentine was ultimately chosen as the basis for Standard Italian, Venetian remains one of the most widely spoken Italian languages.

As well as Veneto, you’ll find it spoken in the neighbouring Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, some parts of Slovenia and Croatia, and even in parts of Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina where Italian immigrants settled several generations ago.

There are plenty of differences between Venetian and Italian (watch the video below), but there's no need to be intimidated by the dialect. 

In fact, you almost certainly know some of its words already, which have been adopted by Italian and English. Both Italian ‘ciao’ and English ‘quarantine’ have their origins in the lagoon city, as well as plenty of water-related words, from 'gondola' (of course!) to 'lido'.

Here are nine more of the most useful and interesting words in Venetian.

Calle | Street

Used instead of Standard Italian ‘via’, ‘calle’ is one of the words you’ll see most often in Venice, as it’s on so many street signs. Another word for street you’ll see is ‘fondamenta’, which refers to those walkways with buildings on one side and water on the other.

You'll also notice that 'campo' is used far more often than 'piazza' (square), which might seem strange if you've learnt that 'campo' means field. But the simple reason is that these squares were, in the past, large patches of grass or marshland.

Photo: Nicknick_ko/Depositphotos

Bacaro | Tavern

Food and drink gets very expensive very quickly in Venice, and your best bet for finding a bargain is to track down a 'bacaro'. These neighbourhood pubs are simple, usually with handwritten menus or none at all, and typically lacking in garish signage. You can also use the phrase 'far bàcara' (to go drinking).

READ ALSO: Twelve authentic spots to eat and drink on a budget in Venice

Tip: One of the best and cheapest 'bacari' is the Osteria al Ponte on the edge of the Cannaregio district.

Cicchetti | Tapas

Once you've found a 'bacaro', what do you order? 'Cicchetti', of course! These are small dishes, usually many of them involving seafood, which you choose from a counter – a bit like Spanish tapas. Expect to pay a few euros for each one, slightly more for those including meat.

READ ALSO: The words and phrases you need to know to decipher Italian restaurant menus

Photo: Michela Simoncini/Flickr

Straco | Tired

After a long day walking through the winding streets, you might say 'mi so straco!' (I'm tired). It's a borrowing from the Lombard word ‘strak’, which originally meant 'stiff', and you'll also hear 'stracco' in Italian as a lesser-used alternative to 'stanco', the usual word for 'tired'.

Lots of words that have double consonants in Standard Italian only have singular consonants in Venetian, such as 'mama' instead of 'mamma' (mum), and 'tuto' instead of 'tutto' (all).

Sestiere | Neighbourhood

Italy has a lot of words for describing neighbourhoods: 'quartiere', 'contrada', 'rione', and 'zona' being the most common. But in Venice, the term 'sestiere' is the most popular, and it comes from the word for 'sixth' – six referring to the number of neighbourhoods. They are: Cannaregio, San Marco, San Polo, Castello, Santa Croce, and Dorsoduro.

The Cannaregio district. Photo: znm666/Depositphotos

Apotèca | Pharmacy

Always a useful word to learn, for those moments when you find yourself needing medicine, sun cream, or toiletries. Speakers of Germanic languages will recognize the Venetian alternative to ‘farmacia’, which comes from the Ancient Greek ἀποθήκη (apothḗkē).

Pantegàna | Rat

Here's another example of how many different languages have been incorporated into Venetian – this one comes from Slovene 'podgana'. In Standard Italian it's more common to use 'topo' or 'ratto', but 'pantegana' is sometimes used to refer specifically to sewer rats.

You'll almost certainly hear this word if you're in Venice around carnival time, as the celebrations traditionally open with the so-called 'Flight of the Rat', when a giant model rat sails along the Grand Canal as part of the opening regatta.

Caivo/Caigo | Fog

The Venetian terma 'caivo' and 'caigo', come from the Latin term 'caligo' (fog or darkness), rather than 'nebula' (fog or cloud), which developed into 'nebbia' in Standard Italian. If you're in Venice in winter you're likely to experience strong misty fog, which is a pain if you're navigating a boat on the canals, but good news if you want to take atmospheric pictures.

Photo: roman_mikhailov/Depositphotos

Schèi | Money

This Venetian word has a strange history. In the early 19th century, Venice was ruled by the Austrian Empire, so some coins were in circulation with the German term 'Scheidemünze' (literally 'divisional coin') written on them. It then entered the Venetian dialect with the local pronunciation to mean 'money' in general, and is still in use today – though it's not as common as it once was.

READ ALSO: Five easy Italian words with a fascinating history

The article was first published in September 2017.

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Italian expression of the day: ‘Qualcosa non torna’

Does this phrase add up to you?

Italian expression of the day: 'Qualcosa non torna'

Ever get the feeling that things aren’t quite right, that perhaps you’re missing something, that something fishy might be going on?

In Italian you can express that with the phrase qualcosa non torna (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-TORR-na’).

Qualcosa you’ll probably recognise as meaning ‘something’, and non of course here means ‘doesn’t’, so the slight wild card for anglophones is the verb torna.

That’s because tornare means ‘to return’ in most contexts – but it can also mean to balance, to add up.

Ho calcolato le spese, il conto torna.
I added up the costs, the bill checks out.

I conti dell’azienda tornano.
The company’s accounts add up.

The Math Seems To Check Out! GIF - The House Will Ferrell The Math Seems To Check Out GIFs

The word can also refer more nebulously to something sounding or feeling right – or not.

Secondo me c’è qualche parte del mio discorso che ancora non torna.
I think there are parts of my speech that still aren’t quite right.

And when something doesn’t torna – that’s when you know things are off. It’s the kind of expression you’re likely to hear in detective shows or true crime podcasts. 

Qualcosa non torna nel loro racconto.
Something about their story’s off.

C’è solo una cosa che non torna.
There’s just one thing that doesn’t add up.

It’s similar to how we can talk in English about someone’s account of an event not ‘squaring’ with the facts, and in fact you can also use that metaphor in Italian – qualcosa non quadra (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-QUAHD-ra’) – to mean the same thing as qualcosa non torna.

Trash Italiano Simona Ventura GIF - Trash Italiano Simona Ventura Qualcosa Non Quadra GIFs

You can adjust either phrase slightly to say ‘things don’t add up’, in the plural: this time you’ll want le cose instead of qualcosa, and to conjugate the tornare or the quadrare in their plural forms.

Ci sono molte cose che non tornano in quest’affare.
There are a lot of things about this affair that don’t add up.

Le loro storie non quadrano.
Their stories don’t square.

You can also add pronouns into the phrase to talk about something seeming off ‘to you’ or anyone else.

La sua storia ti torna?
Does his story add up to you?

C’è qualcosa in tutto questo che non mi torna.
There’s something about all this that doesn’t seem right to me.

alfonso qualcosa non mi torna GIF by Isola dei Famosi

The next time something strange is afoot, you’ll know just how to talk about it in Italian. Montalbano, move aside…

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