Bet you didn't know you spoke Venetian

A surprising number of words in Venetian dialect have entered the English language

Like many regional dialects in Italy, Venetian is practically a language unto itself, virtually incomprehensible to anyone outside of Venice—including other Italians.

However, there is a handful of Venetian dialect that has made its way into everyday Italian and even crossed over into English.

Since several of these terms are derived from Venetian neighborhoods or landmarks, I'll review here some of the more familiar words in the dialect you didn't know you knew.

  • Arsenal - Weapons factory and storehouse; originally from the Arabic and applied to the massive Renaissance shipyard and military base at the far end of the Castello neighborhood—still in use, both by the Navy and by the famous Venice Biennale art show.
  • Ciao - The informal and ubiquitous way to say both "howdy" and "see-ya" in Italy (and Hollywood) actually derives from the rather more formal medieval greeting of s-ciao su, "I am your slave/servant."
  • Ghetto - Isolated neighborhood where minorities live. In the early 1500s, Venice forced its Jewish residents to move into a sector of the city where they lived in semi–self-governed isolation, their movements greatly restricted, cut off from many opportunities in the rest of Venice. Since there was a foundry in the area, the neighborhood eventually began being referred to using the Venetian dialect word for foundry: "ghetto." In an age of intolerance, other closed-minded cities thought this was a capital idea and the practice spread rapidly throughout Europe.
  • Gondola - No one knows whence the word derived—or why it's also applied to enclosed ski lift capsules—but everyone is familiar with these typical Venetian rowboats: long, slightly crooked, funereal black, poled by stripe-shirted oarsmen, and filled with Japanese tourists.
  • Lagoon - Shallow body or salty water separated from the sea by barrier islands or a reef; from the Latin lacuna, "empty space".
  • Lido - Venice's seven-mile long sandbar barrier island with its Grande Dame resort hotels has lent its name to beaches—and cruise ship decks—around the world.
  • Quarantine - Ships arriving in the medieval Venetian port of Ragusa (today's Dubrovnik, Croatia) were forced to spend a quarantena—a period of forty days—in isolation to be sure they didn't carry plague.
  • Regatta - Boat race.

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Venice tourist information
Giardini ex Reali, San Marco (between Piazza San Marco and its western ferry stop)
Vaporetto: San Marco–Giardinetti Reali
tel. +39-041-529-8711

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