English-Italian blues

Tuesday’s post (15 March) was inspired by Newcastle University’s study of Japanese- and English-speakers’ perceptions of the word “blue”.

From an English-Italian translation perspective, “blue” is an interesting word, and something of a false friend.

The Italian “blu” refers to dark or navy blue, while “azzurro” is used for other shades of the colour. And the connotations of “azzurro” include anchovies, Prince Charming, and Italian sportsmen and -women.

These definitions are courtesy of Garzanti:

blu: agg. dark blue, navy blue / sangue –, blue blood / ho avuto una fifa –, (fam.) it put me in a blue funk ♦ s.m. blue: – di Prussia, Prussian blue.

azzurro: agg. blue, sky-blue, azure: – cupo, dark blue; dagli occhi azzurri e dai capelli d’oro, with blue eyes and golden hair (o blue-eyed and golden-haired) / principe –, (fam.) Prince Charming / pesce –, anchovy, sardine etc. / (sport) gli azzurri, sportsmen who play for the Italian national team ♦ s.m. azure, skyblue / l’-, (il cielo) the sky.

Sportswomen, by the way, are “le azzurre”; “gli azzurri”, the masculine plural form, is used for mixed-gender groups. Sexism in language. (I once saw a photo of Grace Kelly, her two sisters and one brother described as “i fratelli Kelly”, literally “the Kelly brothers”).

The video is of Judy Holiday signing the wonderful Blues in the Night, written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer and Oscar-nominated in 1941. It was my Dad’s party piece, and I love it.

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. Let’s not forget the “heavenly” powder-blue that is “celeste” :). And of course the many other English connotations of “blue”, as in “sweary” (comedian), “sexually explicit” (movie), “melancholy” (mood), “aristocratic” (-blooded)…

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