Friday, January 20, 2012

Vada a bordo, cazzo!

Let's close out this week dominated by the sordid story of the sinking of the Concordia, off the coast of Tuscany, by examining what has become the meme of the moment.

When Captain Schettino, now highly unpopular world-wide, was communicating with coast guard Capt. De Falco on the mainland, he whined from his lifeboat (into which he says he fell by accident) that he couldn't go back to the ship because it was dark. He continued to make excuses in a pitiful tone until De Falco gave voice to the following immortal phrase: "Vada a bordo, cazzo!" Get on board, goddamn it!

This has evidently struck a nerve at the international level with everyone who has lost patience and is exasperated (most of us.) Something like "I'm sick and tired and I'm not going to take it anymore" from the movie Network, back in the day.

But let us examine the phrase linguistically. It starts with the command vada, the third person singular imperative of andare: "Go!". However, he uses the formal lei, which shows that the use of this pronoun is not just a sign of respect or courtesy, but can also be used for social distancing. Now for the interesting part, cazzo. This actually refers colloquially to the male organ (equivalent to "cock," "prick," "dick"), but is used all over the place in informal Italian to express your displeasure. For an exhaustive treatment of this very useful word, let me refer you to a post I wrote a few years back, which you can find here.