Italian Language Blog

Ninna Nanna Posted by on Oct 25, 2013 in Culture

A few days ago I wrote a ‘sleepy’ post … which I hope you managed to stay awake long enough to read! Here’s another word that we use for going to sleep/bed when we’re talking to children, la nanna. Let’s look at a couple of typical examples of how it’s used:

forza, è ora di andare a nanna = come on, it’s time to go to sleep

facciamo la nanna = let’s go to sleep

or simply: a nanna! = to bed! … said in commanding tone of voice.

When we were children, the 8 o’clock evening news on TV was always followed by Carosello, a series of adverts lasting a total of about 15 minutes  (I’ll probably do a post about it!). Most of them were designed to appeal to children, even when they advertised products for adults. Allora, going back to the word nanna, I’m sure that most children of my generation will remember their parents telling them: “Dopo Carosello tutti a nanna!” = “After Carosello everybody off to bed!”

The word ninna nanna (or less commonly ninnananna) means lullaby, and it’s a combination of the word nanna with its synonym ninna, which comes from the verb ninnare, meaning to lull a child to sleep. The most popular ninna nanna is undoubtedly “Ninna nanna, ninna oh”, of which there are many variations. The common element in all of these is the presence of characters belonging to the imaginary world of childhood, in particular l’uomo nero (the black man), a menacing character used to scare children, and la Befana, the old witch who brings presents to children on the sixth of January. You can find out more about these characters by clicking on the following links:  l’uomo nero and la befana

Click on the image below to hear a very relaxing version of “Ninna nanna, ninna oh”

And here is the version that my mother used to sing to us:

Ninna nanna, ninna oh,
questo bimbo a chi lo do?
Se lo do all’uomo nero,
me lo tiene un anno intero.
Se lo do alla Befana,
me lo tiene una settimana.
Se lo do a Gesù Bambino,
me lo tiene un attimino.
Se lo do alla sua mamma,
gli fa fare tanta nanna.

Ninna nanna, ninna oh,
to whom do I give this child?
If I give him to the black man,
he will keep him for me for a whole year.
If I give him to the Befana,
she will keep him for me for a week.
If I give him to Baby Jesus,
he will keep him for me for just a moment.
If I give him to his mummy,
she will make him sleep deeply.

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  1. Robin:

    Hi Serena
    Can you explain the use of “forza”. I saw you use it in the getting up post too.
    Thank you

    • Geoff:

      @Robin Salve Robin, We’ll be publishing a blog today that will answer both this and your previous queston, va bene?

      Saluti da Geoff

  2. Jaclyn Oddi:

    I love these posts! I want to read all of them but the archive only indicates posts back to the last few months of 2015. How can I find earlier ones?

    many thanks, jaclyn

    • Geoff:

      @Jaclyn Oddi Salve Jaclyn, if you go to this page and scroll down, you should see a section called Monthly Archives. That will take you all the way back to 2008. I hope you’ve got a lot of free time on your hands!

      Ti auguro una buona giornata, Geoff 🙂

      P.S. That’s an interesting way to spell your name, I have a sister in France who spells hers Jacquiline

  3. Giuseppe:

    La traduzione di “uomo nero” con “the black man” suona un tantino letterale. In lingua inglese fa pensare all’uomo in generale di pelle nera. Non ha forse piu’ senso tradurre con “Boogyman” ? Credo che nella ninna nanna per uomo nero si intenda proprio quello, e cioe’ il mostro dell’armadio.

  4. James:

    What does ninna nanna per adulteri
    Mean please

    • Geoff:

      @James Ciao James, I guess you got this from the Ennio Morricone music Ninna Nanna Per Adulteri? A literal translation is ‘Lullaby For Adulterers’. I haven’t seen the film, so can’t really give you any more info.

      Saluti da Geoff

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