The national flag may be red, white and green, but for today at least, Italy has turned a different shade: azzurro, or ‘blue’, the colour of the triumphant Italian football team’s jerseys.
Click below to hear azzurro pronounced:
In fact, ‘blue’ doesn’t really do the word justice. It refers to a specific shade of deep, bright blue – ‘azure’, if you want to get specific.
Both the Italian word and its English equivalent come from Sanskrit via Persian via Arabic, which gave European languages their word for a particular type of blue stone mined in what is now northern Afghanistan: lāzaward, which we know as ‘lapis lazuli’.
You can see the same root in the Spanish word azul and the French azur.
All of them refer to a particular type of blue: as the Italian dictionary defines it, rather poetically, “the colour of a clear sky (in between sky blue, which is lighter, and blue or deep blue, which is darker)”.
That all sounds better in Italian, which has an impressive number of words for one colour: from celeste (‘sky blue’ or ‘powder blue’) to ciano (‘cyan’ or ‘cornflower blue’) to turchino (‘deep blue’) to plain old blu (‘blue’).
Rather than trying to describe exactly which shade azzurro corresponds to, we’ll just show you a picture of the kit worn by Italy’s Azzurri – ‘the Blues’, as the national football team is known.
Here they are winning a certain trophy last night.
In fact it’s not just footballers: almost every sportsperson who represents Italy wears blue. The custom dates back to the pre-World War Two days when Italy was still a monarchy ruled by the royal House of Savoy, whose traditional colour was azzurro Savoia, ‘Savoy blue‘.
Indeed, those of aristocratic descent are said to have sangue azzurro in their veins – just like we call people ‘blue-blooded’ in English.
These noble origins probably explain why blue is also the colour of the fairytale character Prince Charming, who Italians call il Principe Azzurro.
‘Prince Blue’ is typically the hero who rides in on a white horse to save the day. Though as fans of gli Azzurri will be well aware after those penalties, not every hero wears blue.
Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.