If someone were to ask me what the hardest thing about learning Italian is, I wouldn’t say that it is the grammar nor the accent. I still make grammatical errors and I’ll never be able to get rid of my English accent completely but I make a good effort and it seems to get me compliments from time to time. Now, I feel more confident about my spoken Italian. However, there is still something about the Italian language that scares me: Double consonants.
At first, pronouncing the double consonants made me feel silly. To pronounce them properly, you need to “hold on” to them a little longer than usual, just enough to make you feel like you’re forced to do an impression of a character in the movie, “The Godfather”.
For example, let’s take the word, “mozzarella.”
As a Canadian, I would pronounce it, “motserela”.
The proper pronunciation is moh-(hold on)-tse-rEHLLLLL-(hold on!)-a!
The thing is that if you DON’T pronounce it right, you could be saying a different word entirely. Sometimes they do no harm. Other times, people will point and laugh at you.
The next time you are in Italy, you need to be aware of the following double consonant pronunciations or be prepared to be badly misunderstood:
Pappa vs. Papa
“Pappa” simply means ‘food’. However, it is referred to food that babies and toddlers eat. If you were in a restaurant, you would never say, “Gnam (yum), la pappa era buona!” (The food was good!) That would almost be an insult to the chef as you would be putting his culinary skills on the same level as Gerber baby food.
Il “Papa” is the pope.
If you mispronounce pappa, you might say something like, “Are you ready to eat your Pope?”
People will laugh but it’s not a big deal.
Cappello vs. Capello
‘Cappello’ means ‘hat.’
‘Capello’ means ‘hair’…just one hair. Like, one strand of hair and not your whole head of hair like you would say in English.
If you mixed these two up, you might say something like,”Did you get a new hat cut?”
Or maybe you would say, “Don’t forget to put your hair on!” and give someone’s secret away!
Again, it might cause some confusion but it is no big deal.
Ok, be aware that we are now getting into inappropriate PG-13 territory.
Toppa vs. Topa
‘Toppa’ is a patch.
‘Topa’ is slang for vagina or a really hot girl.
“Excuse me sir, could you tell me where I can find some vaginas to cover the hole in my pants?”
This is not a situation you want to find yourself in at the local market.
Penne vs. Pene
True story: I was scrolling through Instagram when I found a picture of a menu from a baptism in Canada. The menu dishes, the name of the baby and the location didn’t hide the fact that whoever was getting baptized was of Italian heritage.
Whoever wrote this menu either didn’t know how to spell, didn’t know the meaning of the word they spelled or is kind of perverted.
The first dish on this menu was ‘PENE PASTA’.
What is the difference between Penne and Pene? Well, ‘penne’ means pens which is the shape of the well-known type of pasta. ‘Pene’ means penis.
This Canadian-Italian kid was having PENIS PASTA at his baptism!
I try to stay open-minded and understand where people are coming from. Pasta in the shape of penis’ do exist and I even bought a pack of them for a friend as a joke. However, I highly doubt penis pasta would be appropriate for a baptism. I’m just saying…
Anno vs. Ano
The mispronunciation of the word “anno” happens a lot. Any time I have people over visiting from abroad, my family and friends will always be impressed when they make the slightest effort to speak Italian. Sooner or later one of the following questions will be asked:
- How old are you?
- How long have you been living in ____ ?
To answer those questions you would have to use the word “anno” which means ‘year’. You may say something like, “I’m twenty-eight years old and I’ve been living in London for three years.”
If you do not hold on to the ‘n’ long enough while saying the word ‘anno’ you will have said this instead:
“I have twenty eight anuses and I’ve been living in London for three anuses.”
And that is when you can make a bad impression with Italians. Of course they know that foreigners have a problem pronouncing the double consonants. Now, my Italian family and friends let these things slide but not without cringing as they look away slightly and then politely smile knowing you didn’t mean to say that you had twenty-eight anuses.
Before you come to Italy, make sure you learn how to pronounce these double consonants correctly. If you can’t, just try to avoid them all together so you don’t end up insulting a chef, getting your hat cut, looking for vaginas at the supermarket, ordering penis pasta and claiming you have twenty-eight anuses. Your choice.