incident3 incident in english versus incidente in italianITALIAN CLASS, Portland, Maine – “Well, Stew, did that adventure have a happy ending?” Prof Sandro of Sardina wants to know. I’ve told my story (in Italian) and I’m almost off the hook. One more word from me and it is the next person’s turn in the white hot spot light. All eyes still on me, I think: I can do this. A simple “Yes” would work fine. But I feel expansive and try to geld that lily and say “eventualmente” Felt right at the time, but long suffering Sandro shook his head and muttered “False Friend.” By complete accident, I knew what he meant.

dictionary2 italian to english and english to italianWe were in Italy and all our good intentioned dictionaries were not. We ducked into the book store on the main drag in Castiglion del Lago. They say Italian to English. We say English to Italian. Pot-ate-o / Pot-ah-toe. it all comes out in the same wash, no? No. Almost, but still no. Once I saw the difference I realized this could be a very good thing.

First, lets get one thing right out on the table: Italian is very sexy mistress. She has you feeling on top of the world one moment. And the next moment, she’s disgustedly stamping out her cigarette. On your face. It happens to everyone. You are so dazzled by the romance and the soft vowels. It seems almost too easy. Pizza, spaghetti, ciao, buon viaggio, piano, volcano. It’s hardly Mandarin Chinese or Arabic. We’re using the same alphabet and we’ve heard so much Italian in music and the arts that it feels comfortable, approachable. That’s where we get complacent and let down our guard. And start making up words on the fly. If rapidamente is rapidly (which it is) then surely eventualmente is eventually. But therein lies the rub. Eventualmente cruelly IS an Italian word. It just doesn’t mean what we (ok, what I ) think it means. Prima or poi would have been a better answer if I had to go past the simple answer of Yes, Sandro.

italian dictionary, inside, showing false friend conceptUnlike any dictionary I’ve ever used this Italian one (who knows, maybe they all do) highlights all these bad boys. And trust me there is a “Nota” or a “False Friend” on almost every one of the 600 pages here. Accident (accidente) really means incident (incidente)? And vice versa, for good measure. In what world would that happen? Ah, but it does and “Quando a Roma” we need to step up to that ancient plate and do it the way the Romans would want us to. Wonderful dictionary. Highly recommend picking one up the next time you are in Italy. Whole new perspective. I’m sure Italians look at these FF’s and throw up their hands and say, those crazy English speaking people. THEY’VE got it all backwards. Just like we do going the other way. Allora, relax and enjoy the ride. False Friends is better than no friends at all.

See you in Italy,



  1. Barbara

    I think you meant “GILD the lily”, not geld, which is a whole different ball game (pardon the pun!) And yes, those false friends seem to be everywhere!

  2. stew vreeland

    I’ll probably lose my poetic license for that one!

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