One morning in the dinning room at Casa di Alfredo, I was was attempting to transport a rather large piece of mille foglie from the buffet table to my already brimming plate. As it slipped from the tongs, landing in a poof of powdered sugar and leaving a chocolate blob on the pristine
table cloth, my host grandmother (nonna) tottered into the kitchen and quipped “tu sei un briccone!” Thus I learned my new favorite Italian word.
As my friend Alex – who spent the last 6 months attending classes at the University of Bologna – told me, it is when we are mortified or hilarified, or both, when memories and bits of the language stick in our minds.
In this context and with her voice inflection, briccone was a light hearted admonition from an elder to a younger – “tu sei un briccone” roughly meant “oh you knave, you” . When I got to school that same morning and asked Giuseppe, a native Sienese and the student assistant in my class, what kind of word briccone is, he told me it would be a bad idea to call our professor, Enzo, a briccone.
Later when my roommate here in Siena, Alex, forked my king and rook and I exclaimed “tu sei un proprio briccone”, the Italian students watching our game laughed and nodded in agreement.
The next morning, I asked nonna if she would kindly indulge my crippling espresso addiction and make me un café per favore. When she asked if I would like any milk – or maybe even a macchiato, I replied that perhaps a café corretto – espresso and rum or grappa combined in a 1:1 ratio – would be appropriate at this hour. When she slapped my arm in mock horror and replied “no, no è sbagliato nella mattina,” I told her that all bricconi drink café corretto in the morning. She chuckled, and complimented my small, but important, linguistic achievement.