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Learning Italian Words Through Etymology and Mnemonics


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The following are sample headword entries from my Learning Italian Words Through Etymology and Mnemonics, which makes use of etymology to help you remember Italian words, and failing that, suggests a mnemonic. This is the first book that combines these two methods in learning Italian words.

legge law. From Latin legem, a conjugated form of lex (“law”). Cognate with Spanish ley, French loi, English legal and loyal, and possibly English law if traced to Proto-Indo-European. The easiest way to remember this word is to pretend g is pronounced /g/ (instead of /d?/) and think of legal.

ogni every. Cognate with omni- as in omnibus (old name for “bus”; an omnibus is for all or everybody), omnipotent (“all-powerful”).

aprire to open. From Latin aperire (“to open”). Cognate with aperture, aperitif (working up the appetite is likened to an opening action), Spanish abrir and French ouvrir (“to open”).

risposta response, answer, reply. The root is from Latin ponere (“to put”). Cognate with Spanish respuesta (“reponse”, “answer”). English response is etymologically unrelated but looks close and can be used as a mnemonic. Examples, la risposta corretta / sbagliata (“the right / wrong answer”); una risposta a / ad una mail (“a reply to a mail”).

scopo purpose, aim, object, goal. From Latin scopus (“target”). English scope is from this Italian word. Note the meaning of this word is “purpose”, “aim”, not “scope”, which would be ambito or estensione in Italian. Examples, senza scopo (“with no purpose”, “pointlessly”); allo scopo di fare (“for the purpose of doing / in order to do”); per quale scopo? (“for what purpose?”). See also ambito.

campione champion; sample. From Latin campionem (“fighter”). Cognate with English and French champion, Spanish campeón (“champion”). What is curious and also difficult about this word is the sense of “sample”. According to Kruskal and Mosteller, two statisticians, the word initially meant “fighter”, then “champion”, and then “a sample of merchandise presumably as champion of the whole”. When we say John represents his team, it can mean that he’s a very good player in his team and so can represent the team (as a champion does), or that he’s closest to the average in his team so he represents a typical member the best (as a statistical sample does). The two senses conflate and we end up with one word that means either “champion” or “(statistical) sample” depending on the context. Example, un campione di vino (“a sample of wine”).

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