The Short and Curlies

You may want to have a quick look at this old post, about the word hedgehog. before reading this one. The main thing to take from it is that urchin originally referred to hedgehogs.

Sea urchin therefore, basically meant sea hedgehog, until the words separated, and urchin came to refer only to the marine animals.

Italian though, still uses the same basic word for both: riccio (hedgehog), and riccio di mare (sea urchin, literally sea hedgehog).

While at a seafood restaurant recently, I noticed spaghetti with sea urchins on the menu. Well, spaghetti con ricci di mare (ricci being the plural of riccio). As with many restaurants here in Italy, the menu contained an English translation under each entry. When I glanced down to this one though, it was more than a little… interesting.

It said, spaghetti with curlies of the sea.

Suffice it to say, I was somewhat surprised by such a creative translation. After thinking about it for a few moments though, I realised what had happened.

Ricci is indeed the plural form of riccio, but in addition to meaning hedgehog, riccio in Italian also means curly. I capelli ricci, for example, means curly hair. Clearly what had happened was someone checked ricci in the dictionary, saw curly, and went with that. Or, they remembered from their English lessons that capelli ricci is curly hair, and assumed ricci is curly in every context.

It’s a great lesson in the dangers of translation, and how easy it is to make errors, especially if you get into the habit of thinking Word A in Language B always equals Word B in Language B, and that there’s a one-to-one relationship between words in different languages.

I didn’t try the curlies of the sea by the way, though I wanted to, as I’ve never tried them before. Sadly they were out, but my spaghetti with clams was a fine replacement.

3 thoughts on “The Short and Curlies

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