Listening to language is a dangerous hobby – you listen for accents, odd turns of phrase or expression, and all of a sudden realize you have forgotten to listen to what the other person is actually saying. We haven’t lived in many places, but it seems pretty obvious that every locale has its own small dictionary of special sounds, from the Canadian ‘eh’ to the the Texan ‘y’all’.
Here in Liguria we’ve identified several bits of sound language. The first, and probably most famous, is ‘boh,’ uttered on a short exhalation of breath with a slightly up intonation. It means, basically, “I don’t know, go figure!” and is said when you’ve run out of other things to say on a particular topic.
Another is not a discrete sound, but a charming way of saying yes. Instead of the hard, ‘si, si’, Genovese will say, ‘she, she.’ It’s a gentle agreement.
A sidebar to ‘si’ or ‘she’ as agreement is the ‘anh si, anh’ expression, said with an upnote on the final ‘anh’, as a question. It means, ‘yes, yes, I agree with you,’ perhaps slightly less emphatic than, ‘no kidding!’ and it leaves the door open for further comment (when is it ever closed in Italy??).
The Captain has encountered two very amusing language oddities on the golf course. The first is that though almost all golf terms are English, the shout of ‘Fore!’ for an errant ball is not used. Instead the ball striker shouts, “Whooooooaaaap!” The second is the Italian’s way to curse without cursing. ‘Belin’ is a very naughty, frequently used Italian version of ‘Damn it all.’ Literally it means, ‘Oh penis,’ which is pretty funny in and of itself. But the Gentlemen who play golf don’t want to cut a brutta figura by swearing, so instead they say, ‘Oh, belandi.’
My favorite, though, is almost impossible to express in writing. It also requires a fair amount of gymnastics to be used properly. It is said, more or less, like this: ‘heh ehh ehhh’ with each ‘eh’ getting slightly louder. The key, though, is that while you say it you have to both shrug and bend your elbows, raising your hands up and down a bit. This phrase is often used as an answer to a frustrated question which seemingly has no answer. It means, basically, ‘yeah, that’s a really good question, I haven’t the foggiest idea what the answer is and furthermore neither does anyone else, and anyway, there’s nothing any of us can do about any of it.’
Here are some sample conversations that might use the above sounds:
1. “That Berlusconi sure put his foot in his mouth, didn’t he?” “Boh!”
2. “She’s a beautiful young woman, don’t you think?” “Oh, she, she.”
3. “Rapallo was jammed with people today.” “anh si, anh?” “Yeah, the Lungomare was grid-locked.”
3. “I was three hours late for my meeting because of traffic jams. How can the Autostradas go on strike and cause all those problems??!” “heh, ehh, ehhh.”