Of penne and pene; or, Why Italian is Hard.

posted in: Italian living, Learning Italian | 4

Alternative title for this post: My cannabis has brown, black and white hair and a cold nose.

So Chris and I are about six weeks into Italian lessons! They have some lessons on the base, but since we live kind of far away and have an — ahem — history of enabling each other in skipping classes we take together (I’m looking at you, bowling and billiards) we decided to go the tutor route. After a couple of false starts, we ended up with one recommended to us by a friend and we absolutely love her. The tutor, let’s call her Ro, comes to our house once a week and is endlessly patient with us and the children who are constantly interrupting.

But man, this stuff is hard.

So, one of the first things Ro explained to us is that Italian is a very up-and-down language. Almost all words end in vowels, which gives the language a flowing, musical quality. Emphasis is very, very important and can change the words’ meaning; Ro says this is why Italians frequently sound like they are yelling when they are just having a regular conversation. Double letters change the way a word is pronounced and, obviously, its meaning. And this is one area in particular where I’m struggling. Because I’m not hearing, or speaking, the emphasis all that well. And while Ro assures me that from context a listener will figure out what I’m talking about if I say hats (“cappelli”) instead of hair (“capelli”), there are some less cute potential landmines.

Penne = kind of pasta. yum, pasta.

Pene = penis


Anno = year

Ano = anus


Cane = dog

Canne = slang term for marijuana.


There’s lot more I could say about Italian, for example, our endless struggles with masculine/feminine/plural articles that feel like they are everywhere, contrasting with pronouns like “I” and “we” and “you” that aren’t usually used at all. But instead I’ll just leave off by reporting that my homework got corrected in several places today after I spent a considerable amount of time describing my short, fat, tri-colored marijuana. It has a cold nose, but is still very sweet.


4 Responses

  1. Kacie

    oh mah gah. Those landmine words! Do the Italians realize how close they seem to English speakers? Or is that part of the fun?

    • Kasey

      LOL I’m sure the ones that are around non-native speakers a lot recognize it … particularly the ones working in restaurants. But otherwise? I’m not sure. I feel like there are bound to be some dirty words in English that sound confusingly close to other words, but for the life of me I can’t think of any. (I know our tutor struggled a bit with eyes and ice, but that’s not particularly embarrassing or funny). Maybe there aren’t any dirty ones, or maybe it is because I *am* a native speaker I can’t recognize them? I should ask next week!

  2. Rorye Hatcher

    I had this problem when I was a Pizza Hut employee trying to serve a Spanish-speaking customer – Penis and pineapple are not far off from one another in Spanish. 😀

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