Fun with Language

Fun with Italian

What you need to know: The Italian derogatory word for homosexual is finocchio. It’s pronounced like Pinocchio, but with an F. The plural is finocchi (pronounced fee-NOH-kee). Strangely, finocchio actually means fennel. In case you don’t know what fennel is, it’s “a Eurasian plant (Foeniculum vulgare) having pinnate leaves, clusters of small yellow flowers grouped in umbels, and aromatic seeds used as flavoring.” These are the little seeds you can find in Italian sausage. The stalks can be eaten like celery except that they taste a little like black licorice. What fennel has to do with homosexuality I don’t know, but it is a fact that fennel, in Italian, is equivalent to faggot.

On to the story: Today I went to the library and saw my last mission companion, studying Italian at one of the tables. She was sharing the table with a guy who was also studying Italian. I sat down with them and pulled out my French homework, studying carefully the difference between dorsum and radix. (See next story.) Suddenly, as is known to happen at tables where all persons speak Italian, a conversation started up. The guy was talking about different places in Italy and asking if there were missionaries in these areas. He asked about Capri, and when he was told that there weren’t, he said (with derision), “Good thing! That place is full of finocchi.”

My mission companion exclaimed, “Oh! I love finocchi! I could just eat them all up!”

Now, I understand that finocchio isn’t a word that they teach you in the MTC. It’s not a bit of vocab you pick up from studying the discussions (though it tended to pop up now and then during a discussion on the plan of salvation). But I can’t understand how she went through sixteen months in Italy without ever picking up on the fact that finocchio had a double meaning.

She finally learned today when the guy and I burst out laughing at the table. “I bet you could just eat them all up, you naughty girl!”

Fun with French

As I mentioned, I was studying for my French phonetics test. Part of what I had to study was a diagram of the sound-manipulating parts of the head. You know---the nasal cavity, the parts of the tongue, the vocal chords, the teeth, and all that good stuff. I had the diagram in front of me at the library. I traced over the diagram and labeled everything on a separate sheet of paper. It was all easy. The lips are the superior lip and the inferior lip. The teeth are the superior teeth and the inferior teeth. The tongue has three parts: the apex, the dorsum, and the radix. All easy.

So I went to the testing center. When it was time to label the parts of the mouth, I wrote down dorsum for the top of the tongue and rectum for the back of the tongue. But something just didn’t look right.

“Rectum,” I thought. “That just can’t be right! Dorsum . . . rectum. Dorsum . . . rectum.” At this point, I started giggling. You know, uncontrollable laughter when you’re with someone else is one thing, but uncontrollable laughter when you’re alone in the Testing Center is quite another. I sat, convulsing in my seat, imagining my teacher opening my test, grading the diagram, and seeing the back of the tongue labeled as “RECTUM.” The more I thought of it, the more I laughed. I erased RECTUM (and did a very thorough job, since I didn’t want him to even know that I had once written it there) and finally remembered radix. I labeled the radix, turned the page, and kept on convulsing.


Desmama said...

Oh, dear. Any time of day that would be a funny story, but at 3:33 A.M., it's a whole lot more funny.

Okay, I've been waiting for you to post something about pasta and Italy since I have a question for you about it and wanted a smooth topic transition. How do I keep the pasta from sticking to itself when I'm done cooking it and have put it in a bowl at the table? Should I rinse it with cold water after draining it?

Coop said...

I love your mission stories. There were a lot of funny word mix-up experiences in Brasil. Unfortunately, I can't think of one right now.

TM: Just eat it faster! I never have that problem.

FoxyJ said...

I have a friend who loves to tell people in Spanish "Toco el fagot", because it sounds kind of like "I touch the faggot" to English speakers. All it really means is that she plays the bassoon.

By the way, the word in Spanish for those types is "maricon", which I believe is related to butterfly (mariposa) and would therefore mean a really big butterfly.

Oh, and I think one of my favorite mixed up language stories came from a man who was a counselor in the bishopric in a ward I served in. He was from Ecuador and one of his first weeks in Spain they asked him to give a talk. Well, he was trying to lighten the mood and used a slang word which simply means "cheat sheet" in Ecuador but ufortunately means "penis" in Spain. The congregation was totally horrified when he told them he was going to pull his "polla" out of his pocket to help him with his talk!

daltongirl said...

Last year I helped judge the D.A.R.E. essays for RHS's school. Almost every child wrote all about how if you get mouth cancer, they have to take skin from your butt (rectum, which doesn't sound as funny as "butt") and graft it into your mouth. "So you really could end up being a butthead!" They really got into it, believe me. Anyway, I believe that was what you were thinking when you used the word rectum for the back of the tongue. Subconsciously, you have an intense fear that all your tobacco-chewing days are going to come back to bite you in the butt.

gregory hines said...

Some girls don't even know double entendre in English.
I'd give examples, but then BYU would probably block access to your blog.

Cicada said...

GH---Uh... did you really have to limit "people who don't understand double entendres" to "girls"? I think that there is a wide range of boys and girls who don't understand some double entendres, thank you very much.

Foxyj---The taking the cheat sheet out of the pocket. I'm still laughing.

TM---Actually, in Italy they dump the sauce in with the pasta after they make it, so the sauce takes care of the stickiness problem. They don't ever rinse it.

Th. said...


Here's a Korean one, Coop--

"Missionary" was a tough word for new missionaries and since Korean is phonetic, it was often written wrong in Books of Mormons also.

The result?

There are perhaps thousands of books in which greenies have written "Elder Smith and Elder Jones, Sex Teachers."

Limon said...

In gospel principles on my mission they asked what the role of the deacon was. After the obvious answers, I raised my hand and said that the deacons are supposed to watch after the flock (reban~o). Unfortunately, it came out "mirar por el ban~o." So basically I told all the new people that the deacons would be checking under the stall doors.