Italian Language Blog

Italian Insects – Part 1 Posted by on Nov 13, 2018 in Uncategorized

Do you like insects? Personally, I find them fascinating, which is just as well because out in the countryside where we live there are plenty of them!

Some of these creature are present for most of the year. I ragni (the spiders), for example, find our rustic stone house the perfect sojourn, constructing their intricate ragnatele (cobwebs) in all its difficult to reach (for us humans) nooks and crannies.

In English we tend to think of spiders as feminine. This may refer to their mythical Greek origins as Arachne, the talented mortal weaver who was so proud of her abilities that she challenged the goddess Athena to a weaving contest. Her excessive pride resulted in her being transformed into a spider! In Italian though, the spider is masculine: il ragno (singular) i ragni (plural) and the web is feminine = la ragnatela (singular) le ragnatele (plural).

You may think of il grillo (the cricket) as primarily a summertime insect. However, another outcome of our living in an old house is that several years ago the local crickets founded a secret colony in some hidden place, which by now we’ve given up searching for. So … we now have grilli all year round. They often hold meetings on the wall above the sink, which leads me to believe that they’re not terribly bright, for those that fall are doomed, unless we happen to spot them before they drown. If I manage to extract one alive, I pop it out of the window … but it doesn’t seem to matter, their population never diminishes.

Gli scorpioni also seem to have a penchant for our kitchen sink!

It took me a while to get used to gli scorpioni (the scorpions, singular: lo scorpione). They don’t exist in the wild where I grew up in England, and my only knowledge of them came from adventure films and comic books set in the desert, where you always had to shake your boots before putting them on in the morning. One day, Serena and I walked down to the village car park, and when we got there, she said: “Hang on, I think I’ve got something in my boot.” She took her boot off, and what should fall out but … yes, you’ve guessed it: un bello scorpione, assai schiacciato! (a lovely, somewhat flattened scorpion!)

Last, but not least are the big hairy Mediterranean centopiedi (plural: i centopiedi, singular: il centopiedi). Resembling miniature bottle brushes, these impressive creatures sit up on the walls contemplating i massimi sistemi (the meaning of life) before suddenly scurrying off to their next urgent appointment. And boy do they move! But with cento piedi (one hundred feet) I guess that’s only to be expected.

Next up: Seasonal Insects.

A presto!

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  1. Ex-Expat:

    When I hear “Italian insects” I’m reminded of “i pappataci” and the 3 day long “febbre da pappataci” I got from being bitten while walking in the hills around Lucca. It was awful. Wear repellent!

    • Geoff:

      @Ex-Expat Hmmm, that sounds nasty. I don’t know if we have them where we are, but we certainly have lots of other nasty biting things, such as zanzare! Fortunately, our village is at 500m, so it’s less of a problem for us than it is down in those humid valleys. Especially around Lucca!

  2. AnnK:

    Hi Geoff, Please explain how ‘ i massimi sistemi’ translates to ‘the meaning of life’. Is it colloquial to the region you live in? I can’t find such a phrase anywhere online, only ‘il significato o il senso della vita’. Grazie!

    • Geoff:

      @AnnK Ciao AnnK, i massimi sistemi is a way of saying ‘the meaning of life’ which originates from a famous treatise by Gallileo. Here’s an explanation that I found for you:

      l’espressione si riferisce al famoso trattato di Galilei. In filosofia un “sistema” indica un insieme di teorie che hanno la pretesa di spiegare razionalmente tutto il reale.
      In senso lato, però, si parla di “massimi sistemi” quando, in un discorso, si fa riferimento a tematiche cosiddette “alte”, ad es., la metafisica per spiegare o argomentare su temi quotidiani…

      Hope you can manage to understand that. I first learnt this expression from a book by one of my favourite Italian writers Niccolò Ammaniti, and personally prefer it to the rather more bland ‘senso della vita’.

      A presto, Geoff 🙂

      • AnnK:

        @Geoff Ciao Geoff, Okay then. Questa e` una spiegazione che non avrei mai immaginato. Anche, mi piace l’uso di tematica invece di argomento o tema……. excellent! Mi costringe ad aumentare il mio vocabolario.

        • Geoff:

          @AnnK “Mi costringe ad aumentare il mio vocabolario”

          Basta che quello che impari ti sia utile. Non ha senso imbottire la testa di parole inutili! 😉

  3. Donna:

    Ho un libro da Manlio Bellomo chiamata “Nella Rete del Ragno.” Qual’è la differenza fra rete e ragnatella?

    • Geoff:

      @Donna Ciao Donna,
      Rete is the generic name for net, as in rete da pesca = fishing net, but ragnatela (with one ‘l’) is specifically the spiders web. I don’t know the book in question, but it seems to me that it is using rete either for dramatic effect: “In The Net Of The Spider”, or simply in order to avoid using both ragno and ragnatela together: “Nella Ragnatela Del Ragno” sounds a bit absurd as it’s a tautology.

      Saluti da Geoff 🙂

  4. Paul Laurenzo:

    What a great site.


    Was the scorpion in Serena’s boot poisonous? If it was she may be lucky that didn’t have any reaction. By the way I dislike any kind of insects specially centipedes.

    • Geoff:

      @MARIA POSILOVIC The scorpions here have a sting like a bee, so are only really dangerous if you have an allergic reaction. Otherwise they’re just painful.
      They’re not aggressive creatures, they’re quite timid actually, but certainly aren’t very beautiful (unless, perhaps, you’re another scorpion). 😉

  6. Stuart Reininger:

    I rarely comment on anything and I enjoy this blog …but you just unknowingly did me a favor; by mentioning Niccolò Ammaniti as one of your favorite Italian writers….as he is mine. But I couldn’t remember his name when chatting with a friend, not an hour ago, only that he was from Pisa and that .he wrote “Ho non paura.” My friend just left a few moments ago… and I opened your blog, and there it was… Piccolo mondo..e ora, io devo trovare mio amico e racconta tutto a lui…Grazie…(Stu in Calbria adesso).

    • Geoff:

      @Stuart Reininger Ciao Stuart, glad to have unwittingly helped!
      Do you read Ammaniti in English or Italian? I’ve never read his books in English, so I’m curious to know how well they translate.
      I love all his books, but I guess my favourite would be ‘Che La Festa Cominci’.

      A presto, Geoff 🙂

      • Stuart Reininger:

        @Geoff Ciao Geoff; fino a adesso ho soltanto letto Ammaniti in italiano…Ma, ho visto il film “Ho non paura” in Italiano e Inglese ma, sono paura (cosi’ a parlare) che il mio Italiano non e’ abbastanza bene a commentare riguarda la tradurre…Grazie di nuovo per il blog ….

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