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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Suggestivo’

This word might not mean what you think it does.

Italian word of the day suggestivo
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

As an anglophone, you likely wouldn’t describe the crumbling ruins of a castle or a shaded forest as ‘suggestive’.

In English, tagging ‘of’ on the end of ‘suggestive’ means the thing being described brings to mind or is indicative of something else.

“Her songs are suggestive of ancient folk music” or “these figures are suggestive of an economy in decline,” we could say.

But left on its own, ‘suggestive’ has sexual connotations; you might talk about a ‘suggestive remark’, implying that something saucy is being alluded to, or ‘suggestive clothing’ that showcases the wearer’s attributes.

In Italian, however, the word is far more innocent.

Suggestivo typically means atmospheric, evocative, enchanting, or spellbinding.

It could describe a stunning view or a cathedral.

La cappella Sistina è davvero suggestiva.
The Sistene Chapel is really stunning.

La Toscana ha un paesaggio suggestivo che richiama ogni anno tantissimi turisti.
Tuscany has enchanting scenery that every year attracts a large number of tourists.

It could also refer to something more mundane, like a restaurant or hotel.

L’agriturismo si trova in un ambiente molto suggestivo.
The holiday farm is in a very atmospheric location.

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The adjective also has some slightly different meanings, including ‘appealing’:

Immaginava un futuro suggestivo, pieno di successi.
She envisioned an attractive future, full of successes.

Or it can mean ‘leading’, as in a ‘leading question’:

Quella è una domanda suggestiva, non la ammetto.
That’s a leading question, I’m not allowing it.

See if you can fit the word into a spoken sentence, a written restaurant review, or if you want to be ambitious, a courtroom hearing (?!) this week.

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 expression of the day: ‘A quattro palmenti’

The phrase you'll need to describe a true staple of Italian summer.

Italian expression of the day: ‘A quattro palmenti’

If you’re lucky enough to be spending your summer holidays somewhere in Italy, don’t kid yourself: there’s going to be a lot of eating – or overeating – involved.

Today’s expression might at least help you describe it.

Mangiare a quattro palmenti’ is a popular expression used to describe the act of eating in a particularly fast and greedy manner.

Just think of the way all diets and semblances of self-constraint are generally dashed out of the window as soon as a plate of hot panzerotti is placed at the centre of the table.

The phrase could be considered the Italian equivalent of English expressions of the likes of ‘wolfing down’, ‘scoffing’, ‘gobbling’, ‘scarfing down’ and so on.

Oh, Luca, puoi per una volta provare a non mangiare a quattro palmenti?

Scusa, avevo tanta fame.

Oh, Luca, can you please try not to wolf down [all of your food] for a change?

Sorry, I was hungry.

Le sfogliatelle che fa mia nonna sono buone da morire. Le mangio a quattro palmenti ogni volta che le cucina.

My grandma’s sfogliatelle are to die for. I scarf them down every single time she makes them.  

But, while the action may be familiar to almost anyone, the idiom’s literal translation is likely to be tough for Italian learners to crack.

In fact, the word ‘palmenti’, which is the plural of ‘palmento’, isn’t used in any social context other than the one mentioned above and it would be practically impossible to glean its meaning by simply analysing the structure of the noun.

So, what is a ‘palmento’? Though the word might remind you of palm trees (‘palme’ in Italian) or the palms of one’s hands (‘palmi’), it’s got nothing to do with either.

A ‘palmento’ is one of the two fundamental elements allowing for the correct functioning of a water mill, namely the millstone – naturally, the other one is the water wheel. 

A millstone’s main job is that of rotating on a stationary base so as to grind and crush wheat or other grains, thus producing flour. Does that remind you of something?

Living up to their repuation as highly imaginative people, at the start of last century, but possibly even before then, Italian speakers started associating the laborious grinding of millstones to the chewing motions of human jaws and the expression ‘a quattro palmenti’ (‘with four millstones’) became a way to describe people greedily chomping on their food.

It isn’t quite clear why exactly four ‘palmenti’ were used here, though the number must have been seen as exaggerated and hyperbolic. 

Hai veramente intenzione di mangiare tutto quello che c’è a tavola a quattro palmenti?

Si, quello era il piano…

Are you really going to scoff everything that’s on the table?

Yeah, that was my plan…

The expression ‘mangiare a due palmenti’ also exists, though it’s hardly ever used nowadays, so feel free to stick with the ‘four-millstone’ version.

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

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