Italian Word for the Week: Carnevale

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Carnevale (n.m.)

The tradition of Carnevale has never truly been part of the Protestant tradition, but its history in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches is ancient and rich – the Venice Carnival has been going strong since 1268, except notably for a few years at the end of the 18th century when the Austrians were in charge. (Spoilsport Austrians…) The festival typically takes place in the period before the beginning of Lent, when Christians would forgo meat for 40 days and 40 nights in remembrance of the time Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert – though actually the tradition may be even more ancient, occurring as it does after the celebration of the winter solstice, at the time of year when food is most scarce. The word itself seems to derive from the Latin for ‘farewell to meat’ – ‘carni’, the dative form of ‘caro’ (meat), and ‘vale’, the imperative form of ‘valere’, which translates as ‘(you) be well’, or, as we say, ‘fare well’. However, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary prefers the ‘carnem levare’ (remove meat) explanation. And they probably know best.

Useful phrase
a carnevale ogni scherzo vale (e chi si offende è un gran maiale)
at carnival any joke is good (and whoever takes offence is a big pig!)

Image © Sara Scarpa