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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Campaign demands Italian dictionary Treccani change its ‘sexist’ definition of word ‘woman’

About 100 high-profile figures from lawmakers to writers have signed a petition calling on Italian dictionary Treccani to change its “sexist” definition of the word “woman”.

Campaign demands Italian dictionary Treccani change its ‘sexist’ definition of word ‘woman’
Politician Laura Boldrini, one of the letter's signatories, speaks at the 2018 Women In The World Summit in New York. Angela Weiss/AFP

Ahead of International Women’s Day, the campaign says 30 different words for a sex worker, including “puttana” (whore) and “cagna” (bitch) should be removed from the list of synonyms.

The words appear as synonyms of the euphemism for sex worker “buona donna“, which is included in a list of expressions that use the word “donna” (woman).

It points out that while the terms associated with “woman” have negative connotations, the synonyms listed under the word “man” are generally positive.

The letter’s signatories include activist and politician Imma Battaglia, politician Laura Boldrini and deputy director general of the Bank of Italy Alessandra Perrazzelli.

“Such expressions are not only offensive but reinforce negative and misogynist stereotypes that objectify women and present them as inferior beings,” said the open letter, which was published in Italian newspaper La Republica on Friday.

The campaign was started by activist Maria Beatrice Giovanardi, who was also behind a similar one last year urging the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to remove words such as “bint” and “bird” as other ways of saying “woman”.

Oxford University Press updated its definition of “woman” in its dictionaries after a similar petition gathered 30,000 signatures.

However, Treccani’s Italian language vocabulary director Valeria Della Valle responded that she did not think the dictionary needed changing.

“It is not by invoking a bonfire…to burn the words that offend us that we will be able to defend our image and role (as women),” Della Valle wrote in her response.

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Andare a manetta’

Today's phrase has us firing on all cylinders.

Italian expression of the day: 'Andare a manetta'

Are you ready to put pedal to the metal and go full bore when it comes to learning this expression?

Andare a manetta (and-AH-rreh a mann-ETT-ta) in fact means just that: to go at top speed, flat out, at full pelt. 

Conveniently for English speakers, it translates pretty directly from the phrase ‘to go full throttle’. Andare is of course the verb ‘to go’ and manetta is the Italian word for a throttle, an old-fashioned sort of lever used in vehicles to regulate the amount of fuel being fed into the engine. 

To go full throttle was to channel the maximum amount of petrol possible into the motor so that the car could reach top speed, which is where both phrases come from.

Running Late On My Way GIF by Minions

Like in English, it can be used refer literally to, e.g., F1 drivers, but is often used in a metaphorical sense. It’s the kind of colloquial phrase that you’re more likely to hear in spoken conversation than see written down in a book, and is most widely used among young Italians.

Se vuoi arrivare entro un’ora dovrai andare a manetta.
If you want to get there in an hour you’ll have to go full tilt.

Stiamo andando avanti a manetta con questo progetto, non mi importa quello che dice Stefania.
We’re going full steam ahead with this project, I don’t care what Stefania says.

You don’t need to restrict yourself to the verb andare: there are various actions that could be done a manetta, such as parlare a manetta (talk at top speed), alzare il volume a manetta (turn the sound up to top volume – e.g. on the TV or radio), or piovere a manetta (tip it down with rain).

Parla sempre a manetta, è estenuante.
She always talks at full throttle, it’s exhausting.

È la mia canzone preferita, alza la radio a manetta!
This is my favourite song, turn the radio up as loud as it’ll go!

Relaxing Season 3 GIF by The Simpsons

You might wonder if there’s a connection to manette (handcuffs) but the two aren’t to be confused: the etymological link comes simply from the word hand (mano), a manetta being a hand-controlled thrust lever and manette being, well, handcuffs.

To help you differentiate, aside from context, you’ll almost always only see manette in the plural form, whereas a manetta is only used in the singular form.

Toglietemi immediatamente queste manette!
Take these handcuffs off me at once!

Parlavi a manetta ieri sera.
You were talking at a 100 miles an hour yesterday evening.

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

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