la salma

Parola del giorno | Word of the day

Today’s Parola del giorno is going to be more anecdotal so I hope no one minds the trip down memory lane. Also, it’s a bit macabre, but I think it is an important teachable moment.

When I first started to learn Italian in the late 1990s (more than twenty years ago), I used to get frustrated, especially learning nouns. What I mean to say is, in English the chicken we eat at dinner and the animal clucking around the farm go by the same word: chicken.

In Italian, you have a word for the animal - il gallo - and a word for the food in the supermarket that’s been killed, cleaned, and prepped for sale - il pollo.

Yesterday, my friend in Palermo reminded me of this discussion we had several years ago. Apparently, we both theorized, Italian seems to enjoy having words to describe similar things when they are both dead and living.

I didn’t do any research to see if this is true, but I think this is not uncommon in many languages. My friend shared with me the word la salma.

La salma is a word I hadn’t heard before, and it means body (as in a corpse). But it means body in a particular context, like when the body is no longer living or defunto.

Il corpo refers to a living body.

So if you are describing your own body or someone else’s, don’t use la salma.

The TL;DR version of all this: Keep in mind when you are looking up words in the dictionary that, if you find several ways to say the same thing, these words are synonyms and not referring different states of being (like the chicken).

Can you think of other word pairs like pollo and gallo?