When an Italian teaches me English…

Learning Italian has increased my English vocabulary too! 

I consider myself to have an adequate, if not decent English vocabulary (I better, it’s my native language!).

I have noticed though that the words on the tip of my tongue vary with my environment. In grad school I had a nerdy vernacular in my everyday speech, and could drone on effortlessly about topics like  “contextualized linguistic input.”

Once I started teaching English to absolute beginners, I had to simplify my speech and slow it way down. Outside of the classroom, I found myself searching for words that used to come so easily.

But sometimes Italians stump me. They say a word that sounds like it could be an English word, but that I’ve never heard in my entire life.

I’m embarrassed to say, sometimes I have to look up these words in the dictionary, like servile, for example. It sounds close enough to servant, but I have never ever heard this word.

According to Merriam-Webster, servile means “very obedient and trying too hard to please someone.” And of course, it has Latin origins. (Italians, you have the Latin advantage for knowing all of those fancy English words!)

How do you say servile in Italian? Servile. But of course. 

I wanted to dig deeper into this new word. Why haven’t I ever heard it before? I recently discovered (from an Italian) this amazing tool from Google: the Ngram Viewer. It searches Google books and displays the frequency of word usage over time in a nice little graph (you can even compare multiple words too).
Google Ngram Viewer Usage of Servile

So, as you can see, servile was most popular in the 1800’s, but it looks like it’s making a slight comeback. 😀

What about you? Has an Italian ever taught you an English word? Have you ever used the Google Ngram Viewer?

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Ciao, I'm Kelly!

Welcome to my adventures in learning Italian, often while cooking authentic Italian recipes and wine tasting! I love discovering the traditional regional cuisine of Italy and trying to recreate those dishes when I'm back home in the US. I'm also on my way to becoming an Italian citizen through jure sanguinis (by ancestry).

WSET Level 2 Certified Wine Blogger


Join me for a virtual "aperitivo chat" to get exclusive updates on my Italian progress, dual citizenship journey, plus food & wine adventures in the Bel Paese and beyond!

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