Italian word of the day: ‘Canicola’

This is just the word for a real Roman scorcher.

Italian word of the day: 'Canicola'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

If you have any energy left to speak right now, after fanning yourself like a maniac and picking up your water bottle ten times a minute, you’ll probably want to save it for this word: canicola, or ‘heatwave’. 

È arrivata la canicola estrema: proteggetevi!
An extreme heatwave is here: protect yourselves!

You might also hear the English-inspired term ondata di caldo, which is literally ‘wave of heat’. But canicola has a fascinating etymology that makes it particularly appropriate to describe a real Roman scorcher.

Look at the word closely: does the first part remind you of anything? The clue is “cani”, close to the Italian word for ‘dog’ (cane). 

Like our English phrase ‘the dog days of summer’, canicola refers to the time when Sirius – also known as Alpha Canis Majoris or more commonly, the Dog Star – appears to rise and set in time with the Sun.

Sirius, the faithful companion of the mythical hunter Orion, becomes visible in the east just before sunrise for approximately 40 days in early summer, a period referred to by the Ancient Romans as the dies caniculares – the ‘dog days’. They and the Greeks before them believed the phenomenon brought scorching heat, disruption and even disaster.

Depending on whether or not you have air conditioning, you might agree with them.

In Italian, the occurrence was given the name of the star itself: canicula, the Latin for ‘little dog’. It survives today as the word for a spell of stifling heat.

But if canicola (pronounced “ka-nik-ola”) is too much to get your sun-addled head around, you can also go for a shorter alternative: afa, which describes the particular type of oppressive, sultry heat that results from high humidity in Italy.

Senti che afa!
Just feel how hot and muggy it is!

C’è un’afa terribile in luglio.
It’s terribly hot and muggy in July.

According to the dictionary, the origin of the word is “onomatopoeic” – i.e., it corresponds to the sound you might make when you’re altogether too hot and sticky.

Mi sciolgo – ‘I’m melting’

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

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Italian word of the day: ‘Delusione’

We hope this word doesn't disappoint.

Italian word of the day: 'Delusione'

Experiencing a delusione (deh-loo-zee-OH-neh) in Italian may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t mean you need escorting to the psychiatrist’s chair.

That’s because while delusione may look and sound like its English cousin ‘delusion’, the word actually means something quite different: disappointment.

Disappointment Disappointed GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Food Review GIFs

The two nouns actually have the same root in the Latin dēlūsiō, meaning a deceiving or deluding, and delūdō, meaning to deceive, dupe, or mock.

But while the English ‘delusion’ has hewn close to the original Latin meaning over the centuries, delusione at some point branched off to its current, quite different, definition.

There’s not much in the way of information about exactly when and how that happened, but it’s clearly a short associative hop from feeling ‘deceived’ or ‘duped’ by things turning out differently to what you’d expected to feeling ‘disappointed’.

Che delusione.
How disappointing.

La festa era, purtroppo, una grande delusione.
The party unfortunately was a big disappointment.

Mike Ehrmantraut Breaking Bad Che Delusione No Che Vergogna GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Oh No GIFs

The adjective for ‘disappointed’ is deluso for a single masculine subject, changing to delusa/delusi/deluse if the subject being described is feminine singular/masculine plural/feminine plural.

Era delusa da come era venuta la torta.
She was disappointed with how the cake turned out.

Devo dire che siamo davvero delusi dal fatto che siamo stati trattati in questo modo.
I have to say that we’re very disappointed to have been treated this way.

A word you’ll often see used in combination with deluso/a/i/e is rimanere (ree-man-EH-reh): rimanere deluso.

You might correctly recognise rimanere as meaning ‘to remain’, and wonder why we’d use that word here – but rimanere also has an alternative meaning along the lines of ‘to become’, ‘to get’, or simply ‘to be’.

For example, you can rimanere incinta (get pregnant), or rimanere ferito (get hurt or wounded, for example in a car accident).

It’s also very often used with emotions, usually those experienced in the moment rather than long-term ones: you can rimanere sorpreso (be surprised), rimanere triste (be sad), rimanere scioccato (be shocked)… and rimanere deluso (be disappointed).

Sono rimasto molto deluso quando mi ha detto di aver abbandonato la scuola.
I was very disappointed when she told me she had dropped out of school.

Siamo rimasti delusi dalle condizioni della stanza d’albergo al nostro arrivo.
We were disappointed by the condition of the hotel room when we arrived.

With that, we wish you a weekend free of delusioni (disappointments)!

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