A Tight Spot

by Samuele Sodini

A Tight Spot

I came across the Italian word tight some years ago. In fact, it looked so incongruous on the page, it fairly jumped out and smacked me in the eye. I’d no idea what it meant and it didn’t even occu to me to look for it in a dictionary, so  un-Italian did it seem.
It was coming across the alternative, phonetic spelling tait, and finding in the dictionary that solved this little mystery for me.
It’s what this sleek gentlman of 1900 or thereabouts is wearing and no doubt his  wardrobe also contained a frac and smoking.
A tigh is a morning suit, the kind that the bridegroom wears at a formal wedding nowadays, a frac is similar but the jacket is cut off at the waist at he front and a smoking is a dinner suit.
But why? because  tight/tait is a truncated translation of abito stretto, meaning a tigh-fitting garment, frac derives from frock coat, and smoking from smoking jacket which, however, it isn’t.
A feature that all three of these words, tait, frac and smoking, have in common is that they latch on to anly one part of the original two word combination. this mechanism is common in Italian and it works pretty well because the fact that a word is foreign makes it quite different from all the other words in the language, more or less.
So a miss, as in Miss World, is the winner of a beauty contest, gloss is what is lip gloss in English, un reality is a reality show, a sub, short for subacqueo, is a scuba diver, zoom is a zoom lens, spot is a both a TV and a spotlight, lifting is face-lift, spray is either a spray can or its contents, and so on. We do this in English too-opera for opera lirica, alto for contralto and, more recently, a latte for caffè latte – but not nearly as often as Italian does.
Some areas of Italian are particularly prone to adopting foreign words.
In the modern wardrobe there are jeans, slip, various types of woollies such as a golf, pullover and cardigan, perhaps even a montgomery and certainly some T-shirt as well as French items such as collant, gilet and foulard.
Soccer uses a fair number of English words as coner, dribbling, tackle and mister and breeds of dogs are often non Italian such as collie, husky and chihuahua.
English on the other hand, adopted Italian musical terms wholesale and many Italian food words, which means that we all know haow to pronunce – ce in inconcerto – te – at the end of andante, ghe – in the middle of spaghetti,  – i and  – zz – in pizza – sciu in prosciutto – ucci – in cappuccino and – ne – at the end of minestrone.
Which is all very useful to know. However, Italian pronunciation is very consistent ond often applied to borrowed words.

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