Saturday, July 14, 2001

Italian friends

WHAT is barista? The word barista is today a part of our vocabulary. It is an Italian word in the process of being borrowed by English. Barista is bartender in Italian and when connected with a coffee-bar, the usage becomes clear. Just as Indian culture and language have given words like tandoori, biryani, curry, raita and kachumbar to English, most coffee-related words have come from Italian.

Coffee itself came from the Italian caffe. The espresso coffee enjoyed so much on a cold winter’s day gets the term espresso from Italian, meaning rapid, which comes from the Latin espressere, press out. Invented in Italy at the turn of the century, a pump-driven machine forces hot water through finely ground coffee, producing the rich, sweet and thick shot we know as espresso coffee. When steamed milk (latte in Italian) is added, the coffee becomes a latte. To create mocha coffee, a bit of chocolate syrup is added. For a cappuccino, the frothy, foaming milk from the top of the steaming pitcher caps the coffee. The word cappuccino comes from the hooded Italian order of Catholic Capuchin monks whose hooded robes resembled the coffee’s cap of foam in shape and colour.

Random words
June 23, 2001
Mortal practices, immortal words
June 9, 2001
Passage of words
May 26, 2001
Traces of the past
May 12, 2001
April 28, 2001
Lost origins
April 14, 2001
Words and society
March 31, 2001
Origin of expressions
March 17, 2001
Varied origins
March 3, 2001
Words around the house
February 17, 2001
Words around the house
February 3, 2001
Medical terms
January 20, 2001
Painting the town red
January 6, 2001
Expressions from seas
December 23, 2000

Italian has also given quite a few food-words, words which ultimately will find their way into the English dictionary and are, at the moment, a part of the language-user’s vocabulary. Broccoli has found its way into farms beyond Italy. Somewhat like the cauliflower, broccoli in Italian means little sprouts. Salami also comes from the Italian salare, to salt. Vermicelli comes from the Italian vermicelli or, little worms, from its appearance. Spaghetti, the long string-shaped noodles comes from the Italian spaghetti, little strings. The wide, flat noodles cooked with layers of ground meat, cheese and tomato sauce, called lasagna, come from lasagna, cooking pot. Minestrone, the rich, vegetable soup is not named after its ingredients, the word minestrone comes from minestrare, to serve out. Mozzarella, the famous cheese is derived from mozzarella, little slice.

The Renaissance, which originated in Italy in the fourteenth century, transformed painting, architecture, literature and all other arts. Through this transformation, English took many words from Italian. To Italian, English owes carnival, casino, regatta; parasol, umbrella; pants, jeans, wigs; battalion, cannon, cavalry, pastel, fresco, arcade and sonnet, scenario, vendetta. This word-borrowing is not a one-way road. Since the 1960’s, after English replaced French as the first foreign language in Italian schools, many English words entered the Italian vocabulary; lady, baby, shop, target, to name a few. Some words were adapted to fit the language, like handicapped became handicappati. The influx of so many English words has given birth to a highly anglicised Italian termed Itangliano.


Many words describing war and warfare have come from Italian. Some have been borrowed and adapted by Hindi as well. Colonel or karnel (in Hindi) is one such word. Colonel originally is a Latin word columna, meaning pillar. Italian borrowed it as colonna, column of soldiers. With time, it became colonello, leader of a column of soldiers. From here, it reached the French lexicon where it became coronel and colonel. Which explains the ‘r’ silent in our pronunciation of the word colonel and the articulation of ‘r’ in the Hindi version karnel.

— Deepti

This feature was published on July 7, 2001