Italian Word for the Week: Nuvola/Nube


Nuvola/Nube (n.f.)

Bargain: two Words for the Week for the price of one! You may think. But it’s not really. It’s more like one and a half. As we’ll see… Here the Italian words are very different from the English one. ‘Cloud’ is Old English – and is actually related to ‘clod’, as in ‘lump of earth’, because a cloud, or at least the cumulus clouds we see so much of in Britain, looks a bit like a clod of earth. From a distance… If you squint a bit… And you’ve been on the cider… Yes, it’s quite a ‘nebulous’ connection, isn’t it? (We’ll come back to that.) ‘Nuvola‘ derives from the Latin ‘nubila’. There is no English form. But the word does creep into English sideways – in ‘nuptial’, for example, ‘pertaining to marriage’, because the bride wears a veil, like a cloud, for her wedding. The Italians also use the word ‘nube‘ (again, n.f.) for clouds, particularly in figurative senses. It has the same root. Now you can see how ‘nubile’, meaning ‘marriageable’ (the notion of ‘nubile’ simply meaning ‘attractive young woman’ is very recent), is related to ‘nuptial’. And then there’s the Italian word ‘nebbia‘ (again, n.f.), which means ‘fog’ or ‘haze’ or ‘mist’, and is related to ‘nuvola/nube’. From this we get the English word ‘nebulous’, meaning ‘indistinct’, as in shrouded in cloud. And, of course, ‘nebula’. And the Italians get the name of the ‘nebbiolo’ grape, because it is harvested late in the autumn, when the hills of Piedmont are often covered in mist. There. I hope that’s clear!

Useful Phrase
ha la testa fra le nuvole
s/he has her/his head in the clouds

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