La Bella Lingua, published last year as a “hardcover” (copertina rigida), is now available as a tascabile or “pocketable” book. Hardcover libri (books) may be more elegant and substantial, but paperbacks are lighter and cheaper—great advantages for travelers and students. However, neither books nor pockets are exactly the same in English and Italian.
In Italian you can find many types of books: a libro di lettura (reader), a libro mastro (ledger), a libro di bordo (ship’s logbook), a libro usato (used book), a libriccino or libretto (booklet), a libro bianco (white book or official report), a libro degli ospiti (guest book), a libro di esercizi (workbook) or a libro giallo (yellow book or mystery, so called because thrillers always had yellow covers).
A person can also be a libro—either chiuso (closed) or aperto (open). If you’ve angered or insulted someone, you can end up nel suo libro nero (in his black book). If someone says you talk like a printed book (parlare come un libro stampato), that can be a compliment, meaning that you make a lot of sense, but it’s more likely to be an ironic tease, implying that you sound pompous or boring.
An Italian jacket comes with a tasca esterna e tasca interna (an outside pocket and an interior pocket) but Italians call the inner one a tasca ladra (thief’s pocket). A person who has le lacrime in tasca (tears in the pocket) cries easily. Someone con le mani in tasca (with hands in pocket) is idle or passive. If you get nothing out of an effort or encounter, non viene niente in tasca (nothing comes in pocket).
Pockets can get on Italians’ nerves. Avere uno in tasca (to have one in pocket) means to dislike someone. Averne le tasche piene or piene le tasche (to have full pockets) is a way of saying you’re absolutely fed up with something or someone. People who annoy the hell out of you rompere le tasche (break the pockets).
Pockets also have positive associations. Una venere tascabile (a pocket Venus) describes a short but very sexy or curvaceous woman.
“E' meglio un dolor di tasca che di cuore,” Italians say. “It’s better to have a pocket — or money — problem than a love one. “
Conoscere qualcuno come le proprie tasche means to know someone like you know your own pockets or, as we might say in English, like the back of your hand. And that’s how I hope you get to know La Bella Lingua.
Words and Expressions
dizionario tascabile — pocket dictionary
tascata — pocketful
pagare di tasca propria — pay out of one’s own pocket
libro paga – payroll (essere sul libro paga — to be on the payroll)
orologio da taschino -– pocket-watch
"L'ultimo vestito ce lo fanno senza tasche” — Our last outfit is made without pockets (when we die we don’t bring anything with us)
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language, now available in paperback.
Click below for a real treat: the Beatles singing the Italian version of “Paperback Writer”