As I’ve written elsewhere, Italian is a very much alive in academic and professional settings, so now it’s time to investigate the real world, language on a day-to-day basis – Italian is out there, a spirit that supersedes national boundaries. So where do we see and hear la bella lingua in the greater NY area?
Italian food has become one of the most popular ethnic foods in the U.S. Americans have a rich food vocabulary, from products to dishes, from grocery stores to eateries across the greater New York area, and they are continuously exposed to la bella lingua and culture, albeit their pronunciation of these words have been contaminated by funky regional linguistic phenomena, to the point where purists like me cringe. For this reason, I’ll stay away from food vocabulary and the kitchen.
Plus, we all know there’s more to the Italian than just food. What “other” linguistic realities have made their way into daily economic life in the big city? By other, I mean Italian words that aren’t the standard Italian fare, like Vespa or cappuccino. I also wish to exclude businesses that are named after their Italian family name. Let’s take a look at a sampling of la bella lingua, and identify words and expressions that have become a reality in the business marketplace.
This lighthearted guide to Italy in NY will be a linguistic and cultural journey of la bella lingua, from A to Z (using, of course, the Italian alphabet).
A – amore (love)
Love is king in New York, and the Big Apple’s motto, “I ♥ NY,” proves it. There’s also amore for Italian. You can find Amore Opera for those passionate about opera, both well-loved and nouveau. There’s also a nail salon Amore Beauty & Spa offering manis, pedis and more in Hell’s Kitchen. Then if you head into Chinatown, you’ll also find Amore a cosmetics and beauty supply shop where you can discover the best of Korean beauty. Makes you somewhat curious about amore, no?
B – bello, bella, bellezza (handsome, beautiful, beauty)
Whatever makes you beautiful or shows your beauty is bello. From objects for the home (Sweet Bella), to clothing (Bella Bridesmaids), and bellezza (mostly women’s personal grooming needs, of course), you’ll find too many bel- derivatives to count: Salone D’Bellezza, Studio Bella Salon and Wellness, BellaVita Fitness & Wellness” (another important Italian B-word: benessere, but this one less common). Go to Bella Dental in Chinatown, but don’t forget to stop into Sono Bello on Madison Ave. (or any of their other 29 locations nation-wide) to transform your body and rejuvenate your face. After looking at the success stories, with a female/male ratio of 3:1, the professor in me asks whether it shouldn’t perhaps be “Sono Bella”…
C – ciao (hi, bye)
Often found together with the B-word above, ciao is for both greeting and leave-taking used casually with friends and family. During World War II, Bella ciao took on a special meaning – it is the song of the antifascist resistance in Italy. The cultural diffusion of ciao doesn’t stop with Romance languages, and it is remarkable to hear on the streets, read in our text messages – ciao knows no boundaries. Beyond a vast number of eateries and cafés that use this word, in the Village we find the play on words Chow Ciao Design, a marketing agency that caters to the food industry. Occasionally, even to man’s best friend we say Ciao Bow Wow at drop off and pick up from the dog day care center with locations in the financial district and Brooklyn.
D – dolce (sweet)
Ah, la dolce vita. Maybe we know Fellini’s film. Maybe we know Dolce & Gabbana. Ultimately, we all know how sweet it is. In Manhattan, you’ll find Dolce Vita Intimates on Madison Ave., Dolce Vita clothes and shoes at department stores or specific locations in the city. You can also have la dolce vita come to you: The classical string quartet Dolce Vita New York can be hired on gigmasters.com for parties, weddings, anything and will play all kinds of music. Speaking of music, I would be remiss to not mention Il Divo, the male quartet classical crossover group, whose first concert at Gotham Hall in 2004 proved that if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere…
E – eleganza (elegance)
Without a doubt eleganza goes hand in hand with Italian style Eleganza Tailors on Lexington Ave., Eleganza Tiles with six branches in major U.S. cities, Eleganza Fashion Marketing & Consulting, to help clients work New York Fashion Week (among other activities), and Eleganza Jewels, Etc. on the outskirts of the city.
F – Ferrari
You’re wondering why I am using this renown name when I stated that I wouldn’t include family-named business, in this case even one that is synonymous with Italy. Indulge me please. Some clever NYC businesses have adopted the Ferrari name and created their own business, for example Ferrari Express, a forwarding company that moves jewelry, gems and valuable cargo (luxury products + speedy service). There is also a Ferrari Driving School in four boroughs (Queens, Long Island, Brooklyn and Bronx), but don’t get any ideas! They teach smart driving instead of speeding in easy to use, dual-controlled vehicles (sorry, no actual Ferrari).
G – grande (large, big)
If Starbucks has done anything for Italian, it has increased Italian language knowledge for cup sizes. A grande (large, but what we generally consider a medium coffee, 16 fl.oz.) is on the lips of every coffee beverage addict of New Yorkers and tourists alike. In Manhattan, every five blocks, you’ll finds someone pronouncing (or mispronouncing) an Italian word, ordering a grande caramel macchiato or a grande iced caffè americano, or maybe going really large with a ‘venti’ or ‘trenta’…
I – –issimo (-est, superlative meaning the best, ultimate)
Since we’re talking coffee, there’s also the best of a joint venture of illycaffè and Coca-Cola, coffee to-go, illy issimo, found just about anywhere in New York. Issimo Productions opted to name its media company with just the superlative suffix, and built its culture on three core values: Bellissimo, Bravissimo, Grandissimo.
L – lingua (language)
Lingua is recognized mostly when we speak of a lingua franca, especially if we think of English as the lingua franca of business. This term was coined when Italy dominated commerce, from late medieval times to the 19th century, and the language of communication was a simple Italian mixed with Romance languages, Greek, Arabic and Turkish. Today in a city that has over 140 languages spoken regularly, lingua is used frequently, as we find with translation, interpretation and global marketing companies, like Lingualinx, (on 5th Ave.) Omnilingua (in the Village), and Translingua (on 43rd).
M – Marco Polo
Why include a 13th century Venetian explorer in my Italian alphabet? Geico, with regional offices in New York State, recently revived this explorer and the Italian language enjoyably in one of its commercial series “It’s Not Surprising.” Marco Polo is standing fully dressed in a suburban above-ground pool in the middle of a game named for him (or at least given his name). Without subtitles yet requiring much negotiation of meaning – the viewer trying to understand the Italian language, and Marco Polo trying to understand the rules to the game – it is quite humorous. Native Italian speakers too will guffaw because the Venetian Polo speaks with an accent that seems to be Roman…
N – niente (nothing)
When is niente more significant than anything could ever be? When it embodies a lifestyle. Lord Byron, in 1814, writes to Annabella Milbanke (who subsequently becomes Baroness Byron): “You ask me what my “occupations” are?—the ‘dolce far niente’—nothing.” In this reply, he embodies a lifestyle so innately Italian, so much so that no Italian author had ever penned those words. Yet to a foreigner, this is a way of life, one that represents carefree idleness. The pursuit of leisure means you can spend your day in Dolce far Niente pajamas by Brits Desmond & Dempsey, available at Bergdorf Goodman. Your pursuit of leisure can take to the water from any yacht club along the east coast, on Dolce Far Niente Cruiser Yachts (in upstate New York). Literally nothing goes better with la dolce vita as does il dolce far niente.
O – oro (gold)
Standards are high and superior quality is oro. Italian jewelry is a status symbol all over the world and finding Italian jewelers in the tristate with the oro business names is a given. Yet there are also other jewelers with the oro name, for example Veri Oro on West 47th. If we move along to East 57th, we’ll find Orogold Cosmetics and further along to the Flatiron District, Capelli d’oro, a hair salon on 5th Ave. Beauty here is golden. There is also Oro Trucking in both New York and New Jersey. Oro sets the standards high for excellence in service too.
P – paradiso (paradise) / mi piace (I like)
Even if you’re in New York, the desire to return to Paradise is strong. There exists this nostalgia for the origins, perhaps without the implied religious connotation as it may have diminished over time. Paradise is beauty. Thus, there are endless paradiso salons, spas, beauty centers.
The desire to achieve paradiso is not limited to just beauty. Let’s return to Italian cultural origins. Explore an escape room experience that combines immersive theater and existential game, based heavily on Dante’s Inferno of the Divine Comedy. In a journey with “Virgil,” game participants voyage into the heart of New York’s Korea Town and enter in Paradiso Escape where they’ll need to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles before their time runs out.
Beauty. Paradise. It’s easy to understand why Italian is liked by all – l’italiano piace a tutti – from objects to concepts developed over Italy’s rich history. Mi piace is ubiquitous (maybe something to do with Facebook?) so we see it has also found a place even in Ikea’s Nonna commercial from a few years ago.
Nonna’s inspection of her granddaughter’s Ikea kitchen results in a “thumbs up,” for the kitchen: “mi piace.” The granddaughter’s husband, however, doesn’t get the same approval: “tu non mi piaci,” says nonna sternly.
Q – quattro (four)
This number symbolically represents stability and the grounded nature of all things. Think of the powerful essences of nature wrapped up in a nice square package of four: Le quattro stagioni (Vivaldi’s and the actual ones), the four elements, and the four directions. We aren’t surprised to find, therefore, Quattro Management Construction in Soho, Quattro Global Capital on 5th Ave., and Quattro Services Group on Wall St.
Quattro’s balance and strength is evident in the business name Quattro Gatti Theatre Company in Brooklyn. This non-profit company creates original and ensemble-based productions with only a few people (thus the quattro gatti).
R – Ragazza (girl)
Italian girl, ragazza, marks that precious period from adolescence to the end of youth, generally just before they marry. Should we be surprised to find a Mexican company, Ragazza Fashion, selling “quinceañera” dresses in New York? Not at all. It makes perfect sense (and personally, ragazza sounds much better than “chica”). Bella Ragazza Salon & Spa in the Bronx and Bella Ragazza Makeup in Staten Island (specializing in weddings) continue the connection between Italian and beauty. Ragazza is simply an extension of this relationship.
There is also Ragazza Contracting in East Elmhurst, run by, yes, you’re correct, a girl. It is interesting to note that there does not seem to be a business name in the greater NY area that uses, the masculine equivalent, ragazzo.
S – studio
As studio is so commonly used, we may not even recognize that it actually is an Italian word, the likes of pasta and pizza, that entered into the English language in 1819. Studios are prolific in the greater New York area; spaces for the visual arts and the performing arts, including motion picture (since 1911), radio broadcasting (since 1922) and television studios (since 1938). In Manhattan alone there are the four major American broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Univision), three of the Big Four record labels (Universal, Sony and Warner), dance studios and design studios, and canvas and body painting studios.
Manhattan’s most famous studio? Without a doubt, Studio 54, an iconic landmark in the late ’70s. The world-famous nightclub and disco was housed in the building that had formerly housed CBS Studios and began in the ’30s as Gallo Opera House. Italian language, music and performance arts have a permanent home in the greater NY area.
T – tempo (time)
Tempo, the speed at which music is played, has been codified in music since the 17th century. From adagio to allegro, from larghissimo to prestissimo, marking tempo is Italian. In our local businesses, you can find Tempo, a party and dance band available in the Tri-State area, as well as participate in Tempo! Musical Therapy Services for all ages, from infants to seniors, or enjoy pan-Caribbean music, media and entertainment on the air, online or on mobile devices, with Tempo Networks.
Time itself is such a luxury so why not enjoy Tempo Luxury Home on West 38th St. Make the most of your time at home, surrounded by custom furnishings and home décor products made in New York.
Time is a luxury and we never seem to have enough of it…an orologio is a timepiece to help you measure your time, whether you wish to be idle (Byron and his dolce far niente), or productive (time is money). For these reasons, the Venetian in Las Vegas tries to lure us from the East Coast, playing with time in their latest commercial Orologio (by the way, the song is Mina’s Tintarella di luna, that is “moon-tan”).
U – uomo (man)
As previously mentioned, it’s difficult to find ragazzo in American business names, yet there is no lack of uomo, in particular to indicate men’s fashion. There is Zohreh Uomo on Lexington, Bugatchi Uomo on West 40th, Cellini Uomo in the East Village, Pardizzio Uomo on West 39th, and Ital Uomo of New York in Long Island, as well as Vero Uomo in New Jersey, all specializing in men’s fashion. Also in NJ, you will find Dieci Uomo, a salon and spa with the mission to provide the ultimate male grooming experience. Yes, the Italian uomo is also bello (this adjective is not reserved exclusively for females).
V – Vino (wine)
I promised that this guide will not include food or beverages, but here it’s of particular interest as a linguistic phenomenon. In NYC, you can stop off at Vino on East 27th for wine and spirits. The business name Vino is synecdochic – the Italian word used to identify a part of their store inventory represents the entire business, and what’s more is that they do offer wine from all over the world, not just Italy. This is a common trend: there is Vino Fino on Amsterdam Ave, and Vino 100 with locations in White Plains, Oceanside and Newburgh.
Another v-word that is worth mentioning is volare, which became the popular title of a famous Italian song (Nel blu dipinto di blu) by Domenico Modugno in 1958. In that same year, Dean Martin released a half-English version. Volare, approximately 20 years later, made its way into the American auto industry with the introduction of the Plymouth Volaré. What’s with the accent? Chrysler decided to use the future tense of Spanish “volar” (Italian volare), but opted to market the vehicle using as their spokesman Italian-American tenor Sergio Franchi, singing a modified version of Volare in the commercial.
Z – zucchero (sugar)
Combing passion and a love of sweets, Zucchero serves up distinctive hand decorated sugar or rich chocolate cookies (or seasonal flavors too) in Westchester county.
Zucchero is also an prolific singer-songwriter of the blues and R&B since the ’70s, and has strong, established relationships with the American music industry and numerous artists the likes of Miles Davies, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Sting, to name only a few. His last US tour was in 2014, where he poured his sugar on fans at MSG. If you haven’t yet experienced Zucchero yet, do not fret – Zucchero returns to New York on March 31 at the Beacon Theatre.
Italian in New York is alive and beautiful! The common thread that unites Italian language to America is beauty and excellence. The business world values the connection between Italian words and the Italian way of life, and Italian products that represent excellence and quality. When you hear or see an Italian word in the business world, it’s the union of figurative and linguistic beauty, a beauty that transcends geographical boundaries.