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


2 Responses to “English-Italian blues”  

  1. 1 Oliver Lawrence

    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)…

  2. 2 wordstogoodeffect

    I know! I could spend all day exploring these colours. And don’t get me started on Prussian blue or Klein blue!

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