The story of a neologism in Italian language invented by an eight years old student and pushed by social networks.

A new word has just entered in the Italian language. It was invented by a 8 years old child, Matteo, during the Italian lesson, in an exercise on adjectives. The story was a trend topics for a couple of days and it even peeked out in international news.
To cut it short: to describe a flower, the student used the adjective “petaloso” to mean that it’s full of petals, but the word doesn’t (didn’t!) exist in Italian. His teacher marked it as a mistake, but the word is constructed by adding to the word “petalo” (petal) the suffix “-oso” meaning full of. The teacher sent it for an evaluation to the Accademia della Crusca, the Italian National Institution of Language. Which, surprisingly (or not?) answered with a letter explaining to Matteo that the word grammatically made sense and it was clear and comprehensible.

Nevertheless, to become a word of Italian language it must be understood and used by a great number of people in many sentences.


Italian language

The letter was published on the social networks. A nice story with a smart kid an a good teacher.

It was like saying to Twitter users: at my signal, unleash hell.

In a couple of days hundreds of tweets came out using the new word. Even our marketing-wise PM Matteo Renzi used it in a speech (a little bit out of context, I would say). The result was that Zanichelli, the publisher of the most used Italian dictionary, informed that “petaloso”could be inserted in the next edition.

I don’t want to think too much about the word itself. Neologisms happen every day. In Italy, we are often discussing the abuse of Anglicisms when the equivalent exists in the Italian language. The verb “taggare”, to tag (on Facebook), has for sure an horrible sound and there are Italian words that could be used instead. But it’s there, there’s no better way to express this concept.

I find the whole thing quite intriguing if you are interested in the dynamics of social networks.The first day the story came out, the mood on social networks was completely positive about it.

It had everything a storyteller dreams of.

The boy who defeats the system (Matteo), the good wizard (the teacher), the wise man (the Accademia). But the first day was not even finished that signs of annoyance came out, like in this tweet (say petaloso again…).

The mood changed in one day from “what a sweet story” to “I’m so sick of this bloody word and I don’t want to hear it anymore”.

And who can blame them? For 24 hours every media was all about that. It’s just that journalists and bloggers (like me) have to write something every day and they are running out of ideas? Are we a lobotomised mass, as I’ve just read on an article about this topic? I wouldn’t take this episode too seriously, but I guess if the word will be really still used in two or three months.

If it’s will be used or not, the winner here is the Accademia delle Crusca. Did you know that it was founded in Florence by five friend in 1585? It’s surprising that such an ancient and revered institute is so wise in the use of new technologies. The Accademia is active an the social network, from where it they answer to people’s questions grammar and syntax and they launch campaigns against the most common mistakes. At the end of the day they have never given up their mission in more than four hundreds year of history to preserve the purity of Italian language: and language is now developing on the Internet.