Caffé Nero on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield has become a regular place to meet my Italian friend Mita. Issues of mass redundancies and decimated services at Sheffield City Council flow to the more pleasant subject of holidays. Mita has just returned from visiting la famiglia in Puglia, where the languor of drooping by the poolside and melting in the scorching weather is only rattled by her father’s driving.
Papà likes to to drift along at 20mph, working out what he needs to work out while he goes. For some reason other motorists find this irritating, and Mita and co. get embarrassed, if not stressed, by the whole carry on. What causes adults to cringe is seen quite differently by a four year old boy, who finds it highly amusing when, on being overtaken, the driver glares at papà and exclaims, “ma sparati!”.
Ma sparati, Mita tells me, means, “go and shoot yourself”. I like this. So does her wee boy and hubby who now use it with great fun.
It’s not until later that ma sparati comes back to me and I start to try and work it out. Ma, as far as I know, means but. I understand va and vado, ma ma? A text exchange reveals that ma does mean but, but in this context ma is often used at the beginning of a phrase, especially if it a bad one.
I am not sure exactly how useful telling someone to go and shoot themselves in Italian is, but there you have it: ma sparati!