• Official langauge: Italian
  • Interesting facts: Romance family, 21 letters (no j, k, w, x or y), numerous dialects

So, Italy. Lovely Italy.

We like Italy round here, and we’ve written before about the pride they take in their language, their football and their distinctive language of football.

It’s important to remember that this is still a country still split along dialect lines, with regional language and pride often coming before any kind of unified nationalism. After all, the country only officially adopted a standardised language in 1861, using what had been the Tuscan tongue as the template.

Who speaks what

So there are plenty of regional accents to speak of. Perhaps the most obvious variations in the Italian spoken in the squad, though, come from the Oriundi (naturalised Italian internationals) Eder, Jorginho and Thiago Motta, all of whom were born in Brazil.

Gigi Buffon has a Tuscan accent, rolling his consonants and swallowing the c sounds. He also measures his words, with his speech giving off less immediate emotion than that of his teammates. This lends him a certain gravitas, and made his letter to the goal he has spent his adult life guarding all the more striking, and resonant.

Surprising exclusion Lorenzo Insigne retains all the bawdy, colourful features of his native Neopolitan: cutting the ends off words, letters merging into one. Incidentally, this accent was carried over to Argentina and Uruguay by southern Italian emigrants, and had a major influence on the unique Rioplatense take on Spanish used there.

Insigne is said by the rest of Italy to represent all things about the passionate, occasionally shady, football crazy south, and for that argument we present Exhibit A. He was recently mugged at gunpoint in his home town of Naples, where, along with his girlfriend, he was relieved of jewellery and cash. His assailant, while running away, took the time to tell Insigne to “score a goal for me in the next game” (dedicami un gol la prossima partita).

Choice phrases

Until 10-15 years ago, tiki-taka was considered a thoroughly unfair approach in Italy: the wasting of time, the disarming of opponents, it just wasn’t cricket (the irony of this attitude, we hope, is lost on no-one). Gianni Brera, a towering figure in the language of Italian football, termed it melina – ”little apple” – after a children’s game.

Incidentaly, one touch passing is known in Italy,as passaggio di prima intenzione. The phrase comes from the theatre, when an actor responds without pause to what another actor has said.

Giovanni Trapattoni popularised the use of bizarre phrases such as “don’t say cat if you don’t have it in the bag” (non dire gatto se non ce l’hai nel sacco), which was intended as a warning against complacency. You can get away with this line of chat when you’re basically excellent at your job.

And given Italy’s religious connections, another to explore is viva il parroco. This means “long live the parson” or, perhaps more colloquially, “go on, parson!”, and is said when the ball has been launched high into the air to avoid danger and kill time. It was born in the playgrounds of religious schools (Oratorio), where many professionals cut their footballing teeth and would have a kickabout with the parson, who usually wasn’t so adept at the game. More generally, it is something done without real commitment or precision, typical of a village festival to welcome the new parish priest.

Another one to have transcended football is the Zona Cesarini. Named after 1930s player Renato Cesarini, this originally referred to a goal scored in the last minute. Nowadays it has many uses for something achieved or saved at the death, which is said to be have been done “in the Zona Cesarini”.

Nicknames

  • El Shaarawy goes by the nickname il Faraone – The Pharaoh – due to his Egyptian heritage.
  • Andrea Ranocchia sometimes is known as Frog (in English) because his surname is the diminutive for the word “frog” (rana).
  • Marco Verratti likes to be called Gufetto which means “Little owl”, because that’s what his girlfriend calls him. This is frankly adorable and something we’re surprised he gets away with.

Rivals

France and Germany are the main rivals, with Germany taken particularly seriously given Italy’s record over them. Germans are know as Crucchi, which comes from the word used for bread in Serbo-Croatian, and refers back to WW1 when Austrian prisoners of Croatian heritage would ask for bread from their Italian guards. It has come to refer to all German-speakers, and carries a whiff of the derogatory.

Songs they sing

Chants are taken far more seriously at club level, though you’ll hear the the national anthem, officially titled Il Canto degli Italiani (Song of the Italians) but colloquially known as Inno di Mameli (Mameli’s hymn). It’s an excellent tune full of chest-swelling Italian bombast, and fans will often improvise the instrumental sections.


With thanks to Simone Cola at L’uomo nel pallone and Giovanni Vasso at Barbadillo.