Venetian word of the day: drio

There are many streets in Venice called ‘Calle drio …’ The most common, that you find in almost every parish of the city, is ‘Calle drio la chiesa’. Some Italians think that it means ‘straight’ since it looks like the Italian word ‘dritto’ but the location of these streets gives you a clue. They are always small alleys round the back of the church. Are you there yet? ‘Calle drio la chiesa’ means ‘the street behind the church’.

Wandering recently near the church of S. Pietro in Castello, I saw a sign saying ‘Calle dietro la chiesa’ which is the Italian translation. I don’t know if this is a hangover from the recent failed attempt to rid Venetian streets of the Venetian language or from
the past when the church was the Venetian headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. Either way, I think it’s the only one in Venice.

‘Drio’ also forms part of an idiomatic phrase in Venetian which is a major departure from standard Italian. Coupled with the verb ‘esser’ (to be) and an infinitive, it’s used like ‘about to’ in English. Hence ‘I’m about to leave’ in Venetian is ‘Mi sò drio partir’. In Italian this is expressed with the verb ‘stare’ and the preposition ‘per’, ‘Sto per partire’.

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