The other day I learned the Italian word for tray, il vassoio, and had one of those moments of incredulity when I looked at the dictionary. Vassoio? Tray? Really? naah, that can’t be right. Vassoio does not seem like it would mean tray. I could believe it meant vase, or some other kind of vessel, that would be fine with me; For example annaffiatoio means watering can, and I am happy with that. However, a translation of a word is not something you can argue with, it just is ! This internal struggle made me smile as I could have ended up thinking I’m the only one to have issues like this with vocabulary, had I not recently read a book by Rachel Cusk, called The Last Supper : A summer in Italy.
Towards the beginning of the book she talks about her approach to learning Italian, and how she likes learning vocabulary:
“It is in the area of vocabulary that I feel my resources can be most securely invested. An identifiable object has a kind of neutrality, like Switzerland : It is a place that seems to offer the possibility of agreement. I have no difficulty with an armchair being una poltrona or a rug il tappeto : indeed I almost prefer calling a mirror uno specchio , for it seems to suit it better.”
This is all fine until she reaches the word scarpa
“But sometimes I cannot escape the feeling that the word in my hand is counterfeit money, for there are other words that have no ring of truth about them at all. They are false somehow, I can’t believe they’ll work. How could a scarpa for instance be the same thing as a shoe? If i went into a shop and asked for a pair of scarpe, I would surely be handed a brace of woodland fowl, or two fish with particularly bony spines..”
I think this is my problem too in this case, for some reason I am unwilling to relinquish the reliable tray-ness of my native word.. although I have no problem with accepting the translation for the majority of other Italian words I have so far come across.
I would love to hear if anyone else has experienced a similar problem with learning a particular word, an Italian word, or in fact a word in any other language, especially Latin 😉