Deriving me to distraction

A big small small face?

As I mentioned previously, I’m reading one of the BarLume mysteries in Italian: Il telefono senza fili (=The wireless telephone = The Telephone [See the correction]). It’s a little slow going, but mainly because I get distracted by the language rather than focusing on the plot. That’s typical for me — when we first visited Italy, Lee would often understand what people were saying better than I would, even though I could speak Italian better, because I would be trying to figure out every single word, while she was focused on the content, the plot.

Anyway, one example that I came across in the book the other day is fazzolettone, (=a large handkerchief). Since of course you recall perfectly the suffixes in bisarcipoltroncionacciosissimo, you will naturally suspect that fazzolettone is derived from fazzoletto (=handkerchief, tissue) plus the augmentative suffix -one (=big), and you would be right. Now here I’ll have to help you out by telling you that -etto is a diminutive (=small) suffix. So we have:


fazzolettone = fazzolo + etto + one


large handkerchief = ?? + small + big

OK, so far so good, or at least so odd. But what does fazzolo mean? One monolingual Italian dictionary says that fazzolo is a large fazzoletto, while another one says that they mean the same thing. Not helpful! Florio also says they mean the same thing, and he really should have known better, since both of the modern dictionaries give a second definition for fazzolo saying that it was a head shawl or mantel worn by Venetian women in the 16th century, exactly during Florio’s life. Now we’re making progress:

fazzolettone = head shawl + small + big

If that isn’t enough (and of course it isn’t), one of the dictionaries (Collins, on my Mac/iPhone) also gives an etymology for fazzolo, which says that it is derived from the Late Latin word for “face” plus a (Latin) diminutive suffix. So in the end we have:

fazzolettone = [ face + small ]Latin + small + big

Now you understand what is d(e)riving me to distraction…