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9 Comments

  • Thanks for the article, it’s interesting to see how words move from one language into another, and the changes in meaning they might undergo in the process.

    I am Italian, but I could have never guessed the missing word in row six if I hadn’t been to the States! 🙂
    What is marketed as “mostaccioli” over there is called “penne” in Italy (and, I believe, in the rest of Europe). In Italian, “mostacciolo” (singular) is a confection eaten at Christmas, whose name derives from “mosto” (must), one of its ingredients. The “mostaccioli” pasta name must have originated in the Italian-American community because the standard Italian word for moustache is “baffo” (plural “baffi”).

    Interestingly, in Italy we do not eat any pasta shaped as flowers and the name “rotini” is also unheard of. I suspect “rotini” is another word that must have originated in the Italian-American community, as it is not used in standard Italian; to a native speaker, it suggests something round(ish) but definitely not spiral-like.

  • Interesting observations, Licia; I hadn’t heard of mostaccioli either, despite many years studying Italian and living in Italy; in fact until I looked it up I was thinking along the lines of ‘baffi’, though I knew it couldn’t be right etymologically. Of course these words undergo grammatical changes as well: spaghetti, ravioli, lasagne etc. have all mysteriously become uncountable; and I sometimes wonder what Italians make of ‘macaroni’, as in macaroni cheese, should they encounter it.

  • Thanks for your comments, Licia and Liz. One of the sources I used to research this post was this lovely page, courtesy of Barilla:

    http://barillafoodservicerecipes.com/pdfs/chef_advice/Barilla_Cut_Glossary.pdf

    Licia, I think you’re right that some of these terms originated in the vast Italian-American community. And as Liz notes, all Italian pastas (though usually plurals in Italian) are mass nouns in English. Noodle, however (a Germanic word), isn’t. So, chicken and noodles, but spaghetti and meatballs.

  • Chitarrine – (little guitars) not because of the shape but because of how it’s made. Apparently one of the very first types of pasta , made with a box where the guitar type strings are used to cut the pasta into squared spagehtti.

  • Lorena: I think my favorite shape ever, which I’ve seen only in Italy, is Racchette (made by De Cecco); they’re tiny tennis rackets (or racquets, as some would have it).

  • One of the many things that intrigued me when I first went to Italy was the sight of my employer’s mother sitting at the kitchen table breaking spaghetti into lengths to be put into soup. Of course if she’d had access to Barilla’s cut spaghetti she could have saved herself the trouble…

    By the way, I think pasta is one of the highest expressions of the exuberant inventive genius of the Italians. I mean, it’s basically flour and water, and they make it into all these wonderful shapes. I know different shapes go with different sauces, but it’s almost like it’s done just for the fun of it.

    Back on topic, here’s another one for you: ditalini (“little thimbles”).