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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Una curiosità’

We were just wondering if you knew what this phrase might be used for?

Italian expression of the day: 'Una curiosità'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Language learners who like to ask questions (politely) will find the phrase una curiosità useful.

As you might guess, it literally translates as “a curiosity,” and can be used to describe something curious.

– Questo libro antico è una vera curiosità

– This antique book is a real curiosity

But it also turns out to be the perfect phrase to use when asking questions politely – but not too formally.

For example, I noticed a new restaurant had opened in our town and I wondered aloud if it would be open over the weekend as it was a holiday here in Italy.

My Italian husband, who loves nothing more than stopping strangers in the street for a chat, immediately asked a nearby person (who may or may not have had anything to do with the restaurant) the following question:

– Una curiosità, il ristorante sarà aperto domani sera?

Out of curiosity, will the restaurant be open tomorrow night?

This phrase has since proven invaluable in all kinds of situations; while shopping, at work, or even when completing paperwork at the town hall – the ultimate test of patience and politeness.

– Una curiosità, avete questo vestito in nero anche?

– Out of curiosity, do you also have this dress in black?

– Un’altra domanda, se mi permette una curiosità

– One more question, if you’ll humour me.

– Una curiosità, sarebbe possibile chiudere la finestra?

– Just wondering, would it be possible to close the window?

– Una curiosità, ho bisogno di completare questa parte del documento?

– Could you tell me, do I need to complete this part of the form?

We English speakers probably wouldn’t use the phrase “just out of curiosity” quite so often.

Personally, I’d only ever really say it in English if I wanted to make it very clear that I wasn’t questioning the truth of a statement, or if I was simply being nosy.

But as you can see, in Italian it’s a simple way to make your requests more polite in pretty much any situation.

I also like this variation, which means “tell me something”, “let me ask you a question”, or “humour me”.

– Toglimi una curiosità, Davide. Dove hai trovato il libro?

– Tell me something, Davide. Where did you find the book?

So while living in Italy may leave you with a head full of questions, at least you’ll be able to ask them politely.

Do you have an 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

Italian word of the day: ‘Nasone’

Have a little sip from our fount of knowledge with today's word.

Italian word of the day: 'Nasone'

Give in to the temptation to dip a toe in one of Rome’s historic fountains in the sweltering August heat, and you can expect to be hit with an eye-watering fine.

But there’s one form of relief that the city offers up to all without asking for a cent in return: its cold drinking water fontanelle (fountains) – informally and affectionately known as nasoni (nah-ZOH-nee).

The word’s origins are simple: a naso is a nose, and the suffix -one (pronounced ‘OH-neh’), makes a noun or adjective into a bigger version of itself.

mangione, for example, is a glutton, a mammone is an adult mama’s boy, and buffone – a buffoon or fool – comes from buffo, the medieval Latin word for ‘clown’ and the modern Italian word for ‘funny/silly/odd’.

nasone (nah-ZOH-neh), then, is a big nose. Had it ever occurred to you that the spouts on Rome’s fontanelle look a bit like oddly shaped noses? It will now.

Sneer Aardvark GIF by Comms Creatives
Cyril Sneer
Tourists fill their bottles from a 'nasone'.
A Roman ‘nasone’. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Un minuto che riempio la mia bottiglia dal nasone.
One minute while I fill my bottle from the fountain.

Nasone is a regular noun, which means the plural is nasoni. Aside from fountains, the word can also be applied to people with big noses – nasone for a man endowed with a large snout, nasona for a woman.

The water from nasoni is supplied by the utilities company Acea and is the same as that which is pumped into Roman’s homes, meaning it’s regularly tested and perfectly safe to drink.

There are more than 2,500 across the city, and the Nasoni a Roma app – despite being a little janky at times according to user reviews – is one of the most comprehensive when it comes to mapping out their locations.

The fountains were introduced to Rome shortly after Italian unification in the 1870s by mayor Luigi Pianciani, who decided to provide free drinking water to all the city’s residents.

The nasoni were shut off for several months when Rome experienced a severe drought in the summer of 2017, but the move was met with heavy criticism by the Italian Water Movements Forum (truly) who said it didn’t do much to help and unfairly penalised the homeless who were reliant on the fountains.

Since then, despite a dry spell in 2019 and Italy experiencing its worst drought in 70 years in 2022, the noses have – so far – stayed running.

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