The Grammarphobia Blog

On war and peace in bed

Q: A professor of mine once told me of Mussolini’s efforts to remove foreign words from Italian. The French “garage” became autorimessa (“car shed”) and the Greek “aphrodisiac” became guerra in letto (“war in bed”). The word autorimessa is still used in Italy, but guerra in letto has vanished. I wonder, though, if the latter was the professor’s joke.

A: Your professor wasn’t joking. It turns out that guerra in letto was indeed designed to replace “aphrodisiac” in Italian.

As the professor said, it was invented in Fascist Italy in the 1930s as part of an attempt to purge Italian of its “pro-foreign” and “anti-Italian” influences.

Other words or phrases that the Fascists tossed out and replaced with Italian ones included “sleeping draft” (it became pace in letto, literally “peace in bed”), “sandwich” (traidue, or “between two”), “bar” (quisibeve, or “here one drinks”), “cocktail” (polibibita, or “multiple drink”), and “maître d’hôtel” (guidopalato, or “palate guide”).

Mussolini’s regime also went after foreign films, French food, German music, American customs, and other suspect influences.

There was even an effort to reform the Italian diet and discourage the use of pasta because of its reliance on imported flour (homegrown rice was encouraged instead).

Fascinating stuff! I got this information, by the way, from the book South Wind Through the Kitchen: The Best of Elizabeth David, compiled by Jill Norman.

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