Venice is most probably the strangest and most fascinating city of all of the marvellous Italian places. Maybe it would be because there are no cars and almost unreal quietness reigns there (apart from the numerous tourists and vaporetti); maybe because winter mist makes the city’s narrow and tight streets even more mysterious and dreamlike; maybe because of the annual magic Carnival which attracts visitors from all over the world; maybe due to the legends which spread out and tell about the origin of every angle of the island …. Who knows? 🙂 What is certain is that la Serenissima is unique in the world despite the fact that almost every continent has its own Venice (and even more than one) but of course none of them could reach the uniqueness of the “original”one that was built on 118 islets altogether connected to the mainland through canals and its structures being supported by a large range of wooden platforms placed deep in the sea in the Venetian lagoon.
The intention of today’s post isn’t to bring you on a sightseeing tour around the city during which you will visit the San Marco Square, the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs, and all other places that are worth visiting. Nope …. 🙂 Today we are going on one more specific tour … we are going to discover Venezia through its language or more precisely through its dialect. Are you aware of the fact that some of the worlds in the Venetian dialect have penetrated not only the Italian language but also other languages like English and French?
Of course, we should start with the most famous one which is well known to people on all continents, i.e. the international ciao. The greeting comes from the old Venetian word s-ciào(vo) vostro/s-ciào(vo) su. It is pronounced schia(vo)) which literally means “I am your slave” or “I am at your service”. The Venetian expression for slave derived from Medieval Latin while the latter derived from the ethnic Slavic and the reason for that is simple – most of the slaves came from the Balkan region which was inhabited mainly by Slavs. Surprisingly the greeting was adopted by Northern Italian people in 19th – 20th centuries and it became a very common word in the Italian language. Step-by-step it got diffused although with lots of variations in a great number of other languages all over the world and nowadays ciao is a very common greeting greatly used on all continents.
Other words which we use on a daily basis without knowing their origin are those that are tightly linked to the history of the city. And which are they? Let us start with laguna (lagoon) which derives from the Latin word lacuna which means an empty space. Arsenale e darsena (arsenal and dock) come from the Arab Dār al-ṣināʿa. Traditional naval traditions of Venice, the history of la Serenissima as a repubblica marinara (maritime republic) and the insular position of the chief town of Veneto give a birth to other four widespread words in lots of languages, i.e. lido (shore), regata (regatta), gondola (a traditional Venetian flat-bottomed boat) and cantiere (shipyard).
Apart from these words, here are some other examples and their stories.
Marionetta: The origin of Marionetta dates back to ancient times. It was connected with one event that took place in Venice in 944. During the epoch all marriages in the city were celebrated on one the same day. Un corteo acqueo or something like a “water procession” was held on that day and all promised brides were brought to their respective husbands who waited for their future wives in the Basilica di San Pietro di Castello. Some pirates from Trieste kidnapped the poor brides in 944. Fortunately, they were captured by the Venetians almost immediately who managed to save the girls’ lives and bring the poor creatures back home without being harmed.
It was decided to commemorate the victorious Venetian expedition against the pirates from Trieste and to thank the Virgins for the good outcome of the abduction. How? Some very influential noble families were made to provide 12 poor girls in dowry every year. The young ladies became “le Marie” (the Virgins) and they made a parade around the city every year in honour of the victorious and positive outcome of the expedition. However, the choice of le Marie became really difficult very soon as all Venetian unmarried girls wanted to indulge in and avail of such a similar privilege. Moreover, that their desire to show off turned into almost “a war” and was economically unsustainable. And what had to be done in order to keep the tradition, on the one hand, and satisfy everybody, on the other hand? In 1272 la Serenissima decided to replace those 12 real virgins with very big wooden figures of maidens which were called Marione because of their size. Local traders availed of these large “puppets” immediately and reproduced the Marione in a small form and started selling them as puppets along the Venetian streets.
Ballottaggio: The word derived from the extremely complicated procedure of electing the Dodge of Venice which had to guarantee that a vote us really impartial and transparent. The core thing of the whole operation was the usage of some golden and silver balls called le ballotte which were put in one urn and then took out by each of the senators at different times. That procedure guaranteed that that there weren’t two members of the same family during the same vote. The word was adopted and used also in the United States (ballot) and in France (ballottage) for one reason: those new democracies had to choose an electoral system in 1700 and they chose the Venetian one as the only democracy of that time.
Imbroglio: Fatta la legge, trovato l’inganno! (Every law has its loophole!). In order to be able to make golden and silver ballotte safer and secure the members of the Council met regularly in Brolio (a lush garden near il Palazzo Ducale) and conspired intrigues and discussed electoral promises, i.e. the real vote took place namely there and the Italian name of such places was imbroglio.
Pantalloni: They were the traditional costume at the Venetian Carnival which was often associated with servants Arlecchino and Colombina, and Pantalone in Italian and Pantaloon in English. The latter was a 16th century stock character of the Italian Commedia dell’arte. He was a very rich Venetian merchant who was very cunning and greedy but at the same time very naive and consequently often deceived. He always wore long socks which were also preferred by the Venetians (that’s why the citizens of la Serenissima were often nicknamed as “trousers”) and those britches were widespread and very modern also in France …. By the way, we also wear them nowadays, don’t we? 🙂
Gazzetta: You should know that you follow one 14th century Venetian tradition when you go to a kiosk to buy a newspaper in the morning. The Venetian Republic used to publish several pages (up to 8) on a daily basis and then to sell them at the price of two coins to the public. Those newspaper prototypes of a few pages were to inform locals about the progress of crisis with the Ottoman Empire. And guess what. The name of that two-coin monetta was gaxeta in Venetian. The term was Italianized in the course of the years and it was transformed into “gazetta”. Moreover, it turned into a synonym of a periodic publication (newspaper, magazine, etc.) which contained useful news for the residents of a certain territory.