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Italian word of the day: 'Oretta'

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Italian word of the day: 'Oretta'
Photo: DepositPhotos
17:53 CEST+02:00
When is an hour not an hour? When it's in Italy.

Time is a fluid concept in Italy, as anyone who's ever waited for a bus in Rome can tell you.

And Italians have a way to describe those hours that aren't really hours: oretta, literally 'little hour'. 

The word is the regular word for hour, ora, combined with the diminutive suffix ~etta, which is like adding 'little' or 'small' to describe the noun.

The result is something not quite as definite as un'ora ('an hour'): a bit fuzzier, and subject to variation. Un'oretta is like 'an hour-ish'.

Tornerò tra un'oretta.
I'll be back in an hour-ish.

Quel pane è uscito dal forno un'oretta fa.
That bread came out of the oven barely an hour ago.

While you might assume that a 'little hour' is necessarily shorter than a regular hour, in fact that's not the case: what you're emphasizing is that it's around the 60-minute mark, not always under it.

Ieri abbiamo passato una buona oretta a discutere sulla politica italiana.
Yesterday we spent a good hour or so talking about Italian politics.

– Quanto ci metti da Milano a Torino?
– Un'oretta di treno.

– How long does it take to get from Milan to Turin?
– Around an hour or so by train.

By extension, you can also have several orette ('around X hours'), una mezz'oretta ('a half-hour-ish') and un quarto d'oretta ('a quarter of an hour or so'). 

Just think of it as a reminder that you're on Italian time now.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.

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