Taking a Cut of the Italian Language

Aug 19, 2013

Tagliata etrusca


to cut

“Did you swim to La Tagliata?” my friend asked.
The question baffled me. The only “tagliata” I knew was la tagliata di manzo, a delicious sliced beef dish, usually served in restaurants far from the sea.

No, she explained, “La Tagliata Etrusca” is a dramatic channel cut into the rocky cliffs of Ansedonia on the Tuscan coast.

According to local history, the Etruscans, who were at their height in Italy from the 8th to the 5th century B.C. , carved the cleft more than 2,500 years ago—the marks of their chisels (scalpelli) still visible on the stones.

Historians also give credit to the Romans, who founded the nearby city of Cosa, for creating a magnificent work of hydraulic engineering (una magnifica opera di ingegneria idraulica) to optimize the ebb and flow of water from the port (il flusso ed il riflusso delle acque dal porto) and prevent any silting up (l'insabbiamento) of the harbor.

La tagliata di manzo is something else entirely: una pietanza (a meat dish)—usually sirloin or entrecote–prepared in una marinata con l’aglio, il rosmarino, succo di limone, pepe e olio (a marinade of garlic, rosemary, lemon juice, pepper, and oil), cooked on a griglia (grill), cut into strips (listarelle) and served al sangue (rare).

But you can cut far more than stone and steak in Italian. It’s possible to tagliare in due (cut in two) or a pezzi (in pieces), tagliare corto (cut short), tagliare i viveri (cut off supplies), tagliare la strada (cut across someone’s path), tagliare una pianta (cut down or fell a tree), tagliare a fette (slice), tagliare un vino (mix wine), or tagliare l’erba (cut or mow the grass). Just be careful not to tagliarsi (cut oneself).

Some types of cutting require a specialist. A tagliaboschi or taglialegna, for instance, is a wood-cutter; a tagliafili, a wirecutter; a tagliapietre, a stone-cutter or mason; a tagliatore, a tailor. But even someone who isn’t tagliato per (cut out for) these things can use a tagliacarte (paper knife), a tagliere (chopping board) or a tagliaferro (a knife of finest steel)—and enjoy the ribbon pasta known as tagliatelle.

To face a situation directly, you might tagliare la testa al toro (cut the head of the bull). If angry you might use parole taglienti (cutting or sharp words) and end up tagliare i ponti (cutting or burning your bridges). Watch out: If you tagliare fuori gli amici (cut or freeze out your friends), you may end up feeling that you’ve tagliato le gambe (cut off the legs)—less literally, that you’ve taken the wind out of your sails.

Words and Expressions

tagliare i capelli -– get a hair cut

tagliare male –- cut roughly or tear into

tagliare il traguardo –- to cross the finish line

corso di taglio e cucito –- sewing class

Dianne Hales is the author of La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.  Click here for more information on joining her for a week of writing, cooking, and savoring Italian pleasures in Capri this fall.  

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