Thursday, November 1, 2007

A favorite Italian word: "dimmi"

As a native English speaker, I find Italian to be a very playful language. It seems that every couple of weeks I have a new favorite word. Currently, my favorite word is "dimmi." You pronounce this word like you would say the name "Jimmy," but the first "i" is long. It might look like "dee-mee", except that the accent is only on the first "i". Perhaps it might look more like "DEE-mee."

This word is actually two words: the verb dire and the pronoun mi. The literal translation is something like "tell me" or "say to me", but as with most literal translations, this fails to capture the meaning.

I'm still absorbing the meaning, but it tends to be used in informal and semi-formal situations. For example, in class I (often) say to the teacher "ho una domanda" ("I have a question"), to which she responds "dimmi." Another example is bars. Bars are in Italy are not what they are in the states. They are more like what we call coffee shops or cafes, but they do serve alcohol. Italians use the English word "pub" to refer to what we call bars. Anyway, bars are known foremost for coffee - an absolute staple in the Italian diet (as well as my own). When you get the attention of the barista, you will often be greeted with "dimmi."

These are the most common situations in which I hear this word. If you're as overly analytical as I am, you'll get hung up on the use of the same word in the different contexts. If a bar tender were to say "tell me" to you upon entering a bar in the states, you'd probably think he was being rude. However I've experienced this enough now to have realized that it's not rude here. Of course if the context or tone were different, it could be. However it is used here as a terse way to say something like "Hello, may I have your order?" in English.

Why is this at all fun or interesting? I don't know :-)


sognatrice said...

Ooh I love "dimmi" too! And, like you, I find its use fascinating when in most contexts if we just say, "tell me" or, more likely "WHAT?!" it'd be rude. But not dimmi! Dimmi is cute!

I love using it when my OH calls...dimmi tutto! Such a nicer to say "Why the heck are you calling me?" or "What do you want now?"

Glad you're blogging :)

Derek Bair said...

Dimmi. Is one of my favorite words too. I went to look up what it means on google and found this post. I originally read about it in da vinvis journals. He would prime his pen with 'dimmi'


Atosa Isabelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rikki said...

I came across your blog when I googled "dimmi tutto."
Nice blog by the way.
Do you know the thought or meaning behind "dimmi tutto." It lit. translates to tell me all, but it doesn't sound right. A friend of mine said it means like "what's the latest?" But I wanted to be sure, as I'm living here and don't want to be a fool next time I want to say that,lol.
Any idea?


chris☆lewis said...

Like most phrases, the voice of the phrase "dimmi tutto" is highly contextual. The literal translation "tell me all," or perhaps, "tell me everything" is perfectly correct. A parent might say it to a child, scolding him for not telling the truth. An investigator might shout it angrily at a suspect in a crime, demanding the full details of some part of a story. A girlfriend may excitedly say it to another, demanding the details of a first date.

I can't recall all the grammatical rules that dictate why "dire" + "mi" become "dimmi," but one of the main reasons is that this statement is an imperative (a command). That is, it's a verb in the imperative mood, or "l'imperativo." In general, if you are informally telling some one to tell you something, "dimmi" is the word (or "dimmi tutto" for "tell me everything"). Of course when speaking formally, you would say "mi dica" ;-)

I apologize if that response was too long-winded or in too much detail. I've recently been back into the Italian books.

progamerguy said...

Here is how I understand it. Both dì and dica are from the verb dire. dì' is the imperative in 'tu' form. dica is the imperative in 'Lei' form.
Dimmi: dì (imperativo) + a me =(dì+mi)[at some point an extra 'm' was thrown into the word and concatenated into "DImmi"? Not sure]
Literally: "Tell me"

Now,a bartender could say "dimmi" or "dica" when taking your order but technically "Mi dica" is most correct and most formal way of taking your order when using the verb "dire". Most bartenders will say "dica" or "dimmi" for short. The bartender can acknowlege you with many other different expressions as we all know.

Another example I didn't see mentioned here can be between friends and family over the phone "dimmi" can often be heard at the beginning of conversation after the proverbial "hello, how are you" exchange dialouge finishes.
With that said, "dimmi" can't exactly be translated to English without sounding rude, however it goes something like this. For example, over the phone when there is a moment of silence? and the person calling you says "Dimmi" -- "Tell me" in this context it is kind of like when we say "SO then...", prompting the other person to talk and to keep the conversation going. Capisce?

Will said...

What about "dirmi". Same translation as "dimmi" or "mi dica" isn't it? I feel like I've seen all 3 of these phrases in italian courses I've taken...

Also something that always bothers me.
May I kiss you- "posso baciarti"
Is saying "posso ti bacio" wrong?
I never remember if mi/ti/si/ci/vi/si come before or after verb. Is after verb informal and before verb formal?
If anyone responds it'll be much appreciated!

william said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris☆lewis said...

Hi Will,

Unfortunately each of those mean something different.

"Dirmi" is the infinitive of "dire" plus the indirect personal pronoun "mi." There are certain cases where you must use this form; a frequent example is when it follows a modal verb (potere, volere, dovere). Ex: Puoi dirmi? (Can you tell me?). The infinitive form must be used here because "dire" follows the modal verb potere. While less common, I believe it's grammatically correct to also say "mi puoi dire?" But in this case it's a bit awkward.

"Mi dica" is a bit trickier and perhaps nonintuitive for English speakers. This is "dire" in one of two moods: il congiuntivo (subjunctive) or l'imperativo (imperative). The structures of these moods very similar, but the contexts in which they are used differ; I'll focus on the imperative.

The imperative is used for commands, but it isn't necessarily harsh (and is actually very common). Because commands don't make sense with a 3rd person, there is no 3rd person conjugation. In place of 3rd person there is the formal form, which is what "Mi dica" would be. Therefore you would use it like so: "Lei mi dica" - 2nd person, formal, imperative. "Dimmi," while also 2nd person, is informal. There exists in Italian a funny rule which applies here: when used informally and with a personal pronoun, and only for certain verbs, we take the imperative base ("dì" for dire) and form a new word by attaching the pronoun and duplicating its first letter. Yeah.

Here are some common examples with the imperative base in parentheses:
dire (dì) + mi = "dimmi"
fare (fà) + mi = "fammi"
andare (và) + ci = "vacci"

Knowing when the rule applies is easy; the tricky part is knowing which verbs have this form. Fortunately the commonly used words are easy to remember.

I'm getting long-winded but I wanted to address your last concern. There are times where pronoun placement isn't totally clear, but in your example it is clear.

"posso baciarti" is correct, as is "ti posso baciare," albiet a bit more awkward here. See the form of "baciare" in both examples? They are, and must be, infinitive, because they follow the modal verb "potere." It is an error to say "posso ti bacio" for this reason. Once you internalize the modal verbs and why they stand apart, this rule becomes automatic. I hate making this comparison as sometimes it doesn't hold, but here you can compare the translation.

"posso baciarti?" = "May I kiss you?"

"posso ti baccio?" ... "May I I kiss you?" ... "May I you I kiss?"

Sorry for the long response - I hope it helps (and if anyone has something to add/amend/correct, please do so). Read up on l'imperativo and il congiuntivo. They take repetition and time to master!


matilde said...

I'm Italian and I currently speak Italian so:
-dirmi isn't a word you can say like dimmi or mi dica. It's just the infinite form of dire with the pronoun mi.
-saying posso ti bacio is wrong. Bacio is the present of baciare and posso of potere so you can't use bacio in the frase. It's grammatically wrong.
-mi ti si ci vi si are pronoun you can use both before and after the verb. For the formally form you've got to change the verb not the pronoun. For example mi dica (3th person singular) is formal because you use the 3th person when in English you should use the 2nd. Dimmi instead is di(2nd person singular) and mi=a me, like in mi dica. When you want to talk formal you must use the 3rd person when you want to talk unformal you must use the 2nd.

Divy Saraf said...

My Italian teacher said me Amo Dimmi Tutto .
when i ask her what does it mean .. She said i am teasing you.
i don't understand the meaning of Amo dimmi tutto . But still i love this phrase :)

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