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Raining Tuna

March 15, 2022

I am by most accounts fluent in many languages. I speak eleven languages with varying skill and consider myself well prepared for a conversation in many tongues. I am not perfect but I am competent…. normally.

However, I am also an American and like so many of my brethren, I am a bit linguistically lazy. Having lived in northern Italy for many years, I consider myself completely fluent in the Italian language. Where we live, you have to be fluent in Italian, German and Nonese (local dialect) just to buy bread.

This brings us to why it is often raining tuna. In Italian, tuna is “tonno” and thunder is “tuono.” My unflappable American accent often forces me to say, “Guarda su, arriva tonno!” (Look up, the tuna is coming!”) My Italian friends often respond with a snicker, “How many?” This has been a local joke for a decade. I honestly know the difference but my mind often doesn’t tell my mouth what to say.

In my enthusiastic rush to conversation, I seem to always say “pesce” (fish) when I mean to say fish or peach (pesca). I have asked more than once for a kilo of pesce at the local fruit market only to be reminded that fish don’t grow on trees. “Lo so, lo so, lo so,” I mutter as I pay for the damned fruit.

Likewise, I once said that I found it very interesting that a German tourist had eaten “marmellata di viga con formaggio” for dessert (vagina jam with cheese). Oops! I meant to say “fichi” (figs). In the midst of old ladies hurriedly crossing themselves and gasping “Madonna,” I repeated the statement twice as I was sure of my diction. Finally, a cousin approached and whispered, “You make-a big-a mistake-a!” Yes, he was most definitely “right-a.” This difference I learned on the spot. But I still carry the memory like a red badge of stupidity.

Last, but certainly not least is “scopatore.” A “scopa” in Italian is a broom or mop. If a “attore” is an actor based on the noun “atto” (act), I figured adding “-tore” would work as well with any noun. So for the last ten years, I have told everybody here that I do the mopping in our house while my wife vacuums. Jokingly, I have said that my wife “mai imparata la scopa” (never learned how to mop). Therefore, with false pride I have repeatedly stated that I am a “grand scopatore” only to recently learn that I was saying in idiom that “I am a big fucker.” Ouch! No one ever bothered to tell me what I was saying until a friend recently laughed his ass off over dinner and laid the truth on me like a hundred pound salami. Apparently my way of applying logic to idiom doesn’t work hereabouts. It does make good fodder for my local friends who like to kid me a lot. (Well okay, unmercifully!)

Tonno or tuono: Only an Italian would know for sure. Being a poor immigrant, I continue to exclaim that the tuna are coming every time I hear a thunderstorm approaching. In somma, Io sono un grand scopatore che mangia pesce e pesca ma non mangia la marmelatta di viga con formaggio. Dico sempre quando arriva temporale, “Guarda su, arriva tonno!”

Mi dispiace…. la lingua è difficile.

Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at

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  1. While my beloved isn’t as linguistically gifted as you, he often mixes up his Italian and Spanish with hilarious results.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I picked up very little German while I was there, just “Ein bier bitte” and sayings like “Vas ist los?” and “Macht nichts.”

    Liked by 1 person

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