Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Short cuts to learning Italian (and avoiding scary food).

I try when visiting parts distant to learn enough of the local language to at least be polite in my ignorance.  My German is passable and my fragmentary French and Arabic have been slightly useful. If all you can do is learn a few phrases then "Help", "Sorry" and variations on "Hello" are where you should start.

But in my ongoing efforts to learn Italian I have been surprised to find that I have some solid foundations under me; some unexpected advantages if you will.  For instance:

Via the wonders of the internet I was reading an article on the six "Must-Eat" dishes of classic cuisine in Rome.  The above tasty looking plate is Coda alla Vaccinara.  This is where having a background in medicine and an interest in history will come in really, really handy.

Vaccinara sounds like vaccine.  It means "from cows".  If you know your medical history this adds up, as the first real success in preventing serious disease by stimulating the immune system came when Dr. Jenner in the late 18th century figured out that the crusted lesions of cowpox (which milkmaids got in the course of their duties) could be used to keep people from getting the more serious disease smallpox!  So, Vaccinara.....cow, from the Latin vaccina.

Coda.  This is a musical term meaning the tail end of a composition.  It comes from the Latin cauda which means tail.  We still speak of cauda equina syndrome as the clinical picture that occurs when the nerves at the lower end of the spinal column (they look like a horse's tail) are damaged.

Coda alla Vaccinara.  Ox tail.  No thanks.  No grazie.

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