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'Baby gang' overruns Italy

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

It’s been described by Italian newspapers as an “Anglo-Saxon invasion.” The country that gave the world universally used words such as “pizza,” “spaghetti,” and “al fresco” is peppering its day-to-day discourse with more and more English.

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Italians’ use of English words and expressions has increased by nearly eight times over the past decade, according to Federlingue, an umbrella group of translators, interpreters, and language schools in Italy.

Recommended:Want to check your e-mail in Italy? Bring your passport.

The organization asked the clients of 100 businesses to fill out a questionnaire on their use of what has been nicknamed “Anglitaliano” or “Itanglese.”

It found that boardroom meetings and telephone conversations are increasingly sprinkled with English words, from “customer care” and “brand” to “benchmark” and “brainstorm.”

The phenomenon of Anglitaliano is most apparent in the spheres of business, trade, and technology – a reflection of the relentless march of globalization.

But it touches many other aspects of life in Il Bel Paese, too. Scan an Italian newspaper, and you may be surprised – and sometimes amused – at the often contorted use of English words.

My favorite is “baby parking,” a bizarre conflation of ideas which, in fact, describes a kindergarten or child-care center.

Then there is “Naziskin,” which is as sinister as it sounds and denotes an extremist, right-wing skinhead. A “baby gang” is not a bunch of toddlers but a group of teenage delinquents.

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Throwing a few choice English words into a conversation may be regarded as cosmopolitan and contemporary by younger Italians, but some meanings appear to have been lost in translation. Italians refer to jogging as “footing,” for instance.

But the mangling of language goes two ways, and Americans and other English speakers are sometimes just as guilty of misusing Italian words. Walk into a cafe in Rome and ask for a “latte,” and you will be handed a glass of milk. If you want a milky coffee, you need to request a “caffe latte.”