An Italian lesson on colours

Can you name seven colours in Italian? Did you know that there are many sayings related to colours? Did you know that some political parties in Italy are identified by their colours?

Elena Vignali
July 21, 2005

There is much to learn, and we will start today with just few colours, which will help you to get around the shops and markets in Florence.

 

ROSSO red, from the Latin russu, has several tones:from rosso ciliega (cherry red) to rosso rubino (ruby red) to rosso inchiostro (the colour of red ink).If you are asked in a bar or at a restaurant if you want a “bianco o rosso?” the noun missing is vino (wine).If a person is looking well, Italians say “ha un colorito bianco e rosso,” meaning that person has a rosy complexion.The English saying “Red sky at night is a shepherd’s delight” can be translated into Italian as “Rosso di sera bel tempo si spera.”

 

Rosso can also be used as a noun.Il rosso means the yoke of an egg or a red traffic light.Those belonging to the Communist party are referred to as ‘I rossi’ (the reds).If a città (town) or a giunta (regional council) is called rossa, it indicates that its political orientation is to the left. La rossa can either be an attractive red-haired woman or an epithet for the town of Bologna, capital city of the Emilia Romagna region and historically left-wing.

 

GIALLO yellow, from the old French jaine, carries on the etymology of the Latin word nu.The colour brings to mind lemons (limoni) and saffron (zafferano).Farina gialla for Italians is the flour extracted from corn. The razza gialla means the Mongolian race.When people refer to a book as un giallo, they mean it is a detective novel.Tones range from canarino (canary yellow, very bright) and paglierino (from paglia, straw) to giallo oro (golden yellow) and giallo ambrato (amber yellow).

 

Giallo oro is also one of the colours in traffic lights.Unfortunately here in Italy it does not seem to play a very important role in disciplining road traffic!

 

AZZURRO light blue, from the Persian la-z-ward. As an adjective, it is the colour of the sky on a sunny day. Italians call the classic, fairy-tale prince charming il principe azzuro.The pesce azzurro is usually the variety of fish to be found in the Adriatic Sea, which, according to Italian fishermen, is healthier than the fish coming from the more polluted northern seas.

 

Fans of the Italian national team cheer loudly, “Forza Azzurri!”Cunningly enough, one of the government majority parties has actually co-opted the slogan and azzurro is now also the colour of this leading party.

 

BLU blue, spelled differently from the French bleu (omit the e), from which the Italian word derives.The adjective is often associated with the sea or sky (mare e cielo blu). To have blue blood (sangue blu) in Italy means to be of noble origin, and if you are, Italian reality TV shows want you; Italian audiences are intrigued by the lives of these modern superheroes. If someone is turning blue (sta diventando blu) then you had better rush to offer help; the person could well be on the verge of fainting.

 

VERDE from the Latin word viridem. In the realm of nature this colour is that of erba (grass) and prati (meadows). There are many different tones:verde chiaro (light green), verde scuro (dark green), verde acqua

(pale green), verde bottiglia (bottle green), verde oliva (olive green), verde smeraldo (emerald green)....

 

The zona verde represents the area in towns dedicated to parks and gardens. They are quite rare in the city centre of Florence and if you do come across one, don’t get too enthusiastic – they are usually used and abused mostly by dogs! If you say that a fruit   is verde it means that it is unripe, so if you do eat a banana or a pesca verde (an unripe banana or peach) be prepared for tummy aches!

 

In a figurative sense, green years (gli anni Verdi) are the years of youth and adolescence, and the benzina verde (green petrol) is the unleaded type.Essere al verde, literally “to be in the green,” means to be broke, and “essere verde d’ invidia” means to be green with envy.

 

Il verde, used as a noun, is the green traffic light prompting, as soon as it appears, all Florentine drivers around you to overtake your vehicle on both sides, leaving you behind to suffocate in their fumes.

 

Verde is also the colour of the ulivo (olive tree), which has become since 1996 the symbol of the left-wing alliance.It won the political election that year but was not able to defy or stem the already increasing concentration of media power in the hands of one man.

 

GRIGIO grey, from the Germanic gri-si. This colour’s tones are grigio perla (pearl grey), grigio azzurro (grey-blue, most often used to indicate the colour of eyes), acciaio (steel grey), and piombo (lead).

 

If the weather is grey and summer has already arrived, then it is a day of national mourning in Italy. People will be seen leaving their homes armed with big umbrellas kept well open until the last drop of rain has fallen from the heavens. And if it is a nice sunny day but summer is yet to arrive officially, do not expect to see Italians dressed in shorts and sandals. That kind of dress code is reserved for the Germanic, or rather the barbaric hordes assaulting Italy’s fragile towns.

 

A very last note, many Italians believe greyto be the colour that best describes the national political situation, about which everyone likes to complain at all manner of social gatherings.Few, however, have the guts to dig in themselves to try to bring about substantial changes.

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