12 Expressions and Words invented by DANTE that Italians still use NOWADAYS

As many know, Dante Alighieri was a great Italian writer and poet, famous above all for his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy. What many people do not know, however, is that it is thanks to him that words or expressions previously unknown or little widespread have become part of our language. That is why he is considered “the father” of our modern Italian!

Dante Alighieri, the Father of italian language

1. “Molesto” – Annoying

This adjective that comes from the Latin means “irritating”, “bothersome”; it was a term already widespread in Dante’s time, but it is surely thanks to him that it has acquired popularity and its diffusion has increased. In fact, the adjective “harassing” is present both in songs of Hell and Paradise. In particular, when one of his ancestors announces to Dante the future that awaits him, nothing pleasant in short.

2. “Fertile”

This Latinism has reached the common language thanks to the Divine Comedy, in particular to Paradise, in which Dante describes the birthplace of Saint Francis as a “fertile coast”. The adjective “fertile” comes from the ferre verb, which means “to bring, to produce”, hence the meaning of today’s “fruitful, productive”.

3. “Quisquilia” – Cinch

This term also comes from the Latin (what’s new!), where it meant “straw”; so over time he went to metaphorically indicate “trifle, smallness”, meaning issues of little importance. “Quisquilia” has been used since 1321, but thanks to Dante it has acquired the meaning we know today in the passage in which it describes how Beatrice manages to eliminate every “quisquilia” from the eyes of the poet, every impurity, to save it.

4. “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” – Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

This expression has now become a proverb. It is the engraving that is on the door of Hell, the place of eternal punishment, and today it is used as an ironic warning or with a bitter tone to those who are about to enter a place or a situation that could prove dangerous.

5. “Galeotto fu…” – It all started…

This expression is taken from the song of Paolo and Francesca and in the original version ends with “‘the book and who wrote it”; today, however, it is completed with anything. Paolo and Francesca are brothers-in-law and fall in love with each other by reading a book on the adventures of Lancelot and the knights of the Round Table. Galeotto, there, was a person who betrayed King Arthur by pushing Queen Guinevere into Lancelot’s arms. In the same way, the book metaphorically pushes Francesca into the arms of Paolo giving birth to the spark of love, for which they will be killed by Francesca’s husband, Paolo’s brother. Today, this expression is used to indicate an object, a person or an event considered “spark” for the birth of a love relationship… and not only. For example, I started to get into the English language thanks to the TV series Gossip Girl. So, if someone asks me “Why did you decide to study English?” I could answer “Well…it all started with Gossip Girl”.

6. “Fatti non foste a viver come bruti…” – Ye were not made to live like unto brute…

These are the words that Ulysses addresses to his companions in song XXVI of Hell, asking them to think of their origin: as human beings, they were not created to live as animals, but to pursue nobler goals, such as virtue and knowledge. He uses this phrase to convince them to go beyond the limits of the then known world and go beyond, to discover new things. Today, the expression is used with the same meaning: it is an invitation not to behave like beasts, but to follow virtue and science as great ideals.

7. “Stai fresco” – Safe and sound (ironic)

This expression, widely used in spoken Italian, derives from the very structure of Dante’s Inferno. In the ninth circle, that is, the lowest, the worst, where there are traitors, so worse sin for Dante, «sinners stay fresh», as they are condemned to be immersed completely or almost (depending on the gravity of sin) in the eternal ice. This image has remained in the daily Italian to indicate something that will end badly. For example, there is a friend of mine, Stefania, who would like to cook cakes, but she just can’t do it, they always come out very badly. So, when we organize dinners with friends and she says “I bring the dessert”, everyone says “Oh perfect, we’re safe and sound then!”.

8. “Mesto” – Sad

This adjective comes from the Latin maestus, which means “to be sad, sorrowful” and is introduced for the first time by Dante in Hell, where it indicates sinners, who are, of course, “sad”.

9. “Non mi tange” – I don’t care

This expression means “I do not worry, it does not even touch me, I do not care”, and is pronounced by Beatrice, descent into Hell, which is not at all disturbed by the environment and misery of the damned, because it is a divine creature. Even today, we use this expression a lot to indicate that something is of little interest to us. For example, if everyone is worried about who will be the winner of the Champions League at the time of the final, I could say that “It doesn’t cost me”, because I don’t care much about football.

10. “Cosa fatta, capo ha” – What is done, is done

This was a Tuscan proverb, now entered the standard Italian, which means that everything is done with a purpose, a goal and, once done, can not be undone, undone, you can not go back. It is often used to put an end to discussions about things that have now happened, because they are useless.

11. “Non ragioniam di lor, ma guarda e passa” – “Let us not talk of them, but look and pass

This expression (also known in the version “Non ti curar di lor, ma guarda e passa”) is said by Virgil to Dante when they are among the ignorant, people who in life had never taken a position and had never sided. Virgil suggests that Dante treat them in the same way they did in life. Today, this expression is used a lot to indicate, more generally, “do not pay attention to people, to what people say or do”. For example, if a friend is very criticized for his way of dressing, we could say “Don’t care about them, but watch and pass”, in the sense of “show themselves superior to their useless criticisms, look at them with contempt, but do not attack them too, avoiding to descend to their level”.

12. “Il fiero pasto” – “The fierce meal

With this expression, we indicate a bestial, inhuman, absurd meal. In fact, Dante uses it in reference to the meal of Count Ugolino. These, in life, had been imprisoned in a tower along with his children and grandchildren, condemned there without food or water. At the time of hunger, however, according to legend, Ugolino ate the bodies of his own children and grandchildren. Here, then, the fierce and inhuman meal.

Did you already know these expressions? Did you already hear them? I am sure that now that we have talked about them, you will always hear them! Because they really are very common, especially in spoken language. I advise you to use them when you are in conversation with Italians, you will see their faces surprises, as if to say: “But how do you know this expression?”.

If you want to learn more about the history of the Divine Comedy, you can watch our hilarious video dedicated to this masterpiece of Italian literature.

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