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And Now the Letter H–hamburger with an Italian accent

Today I discovered Hamerica. 

Make that Hamerica’s. It’s a chain restaurant in Italy “dove vivi l’esperienza degli States e provi i migliori hamburger fatti in Italia con un gusto completamente americano.”  Best hamburger in Italy, they boast. Just like being in the States.

Walking through Rimini this morning, we passed what used to be Picnic (the Italians say Peek-NEEK), a restaurant that had a huge vegetable buffet and garden seating and a very cordial and friendly old waiter named Roberto. Picnic closed ten years ago and was replaced by a tapas restaurant that did not survive. Now it’s Hamerica’s. 

Hamerica’s was  closed this morning. If it had been open, I might have gone inside, not for a genuine Hamerican hamburger but to ask, Guys, what’s with the H? 

There are five letters in the English alphabet that don’t exist in Italian: J, K, W, X and Y. As for H–they call it “acca,” sounds like AH-kah–it might as well be missing, as it is not pronounced. At Hamerica’s I’m sure they say welcome to America’s. We serve amburgers

It’s kind of cute. And very puzzling.

I got to wondering about H words. When we got home I pulled my Larouse English-Italian dictionary off the shelf and turned to the H words. It’s an old paperback edition, with 45,000 translations. In the H’s, here’s what I saw: 

That was it. Next I consulted the online Hoepli Grande Dizionario Italiano, thinking I would search all the H words and maybe count them. They are a lot of them (Hoepli, for example). Here’s page 1 of the search. 

Mostly words imported from English. I notice “hackeraggio,” a wacky italianization, which is kind of like hackerage, the act of hacking.  More H words:

It’s unlikely I will ever encounter the word hi-fi or hully-gully among friends, but I would give anything to hear those words spoken. With the H dropped, hi-fi would sound like E-fee and hully-gully ooly-GOOLY.

When I learned to conjugate the Italian verb avere (to have) I questioned neither the presence of H: ho (I have), hai (you-singular have), ha (he/she/it has), nor the absence of H: abiamo (we have), avete (you-plural have), nor its mysterious reappearance: hanno (they have). I can think of no other Italian verbs requiring an H.

Over time, I learned the utility of H, when it appears with the letter c and g. Spaghetti without the letter H would sound like spa-jetti. Michelangelo would sound like Mitchelangelo.

The plot thickens when we consider the voiceless glottal fricative, aka the gorgia toscana or “tuscan throat.”  

You might wake up one morning in your Florence hotel and, in the breakfast room, inquire about the weather and how you should dress.  Setting down your cappuccino the server might say, “Oggi fa haldo.”

Don’t bother looking for haldo in your Larouse. 

The word “caldo” just emerged from his tuscan throat. And in this case, strangely, you hear the letter H. Any Italian travel book will warn you about this curious phenomenon, probably with this illustration: a coca cola with a short straw, una coca cola con canuccia corta, una hoha hola hon hanuccia horta.  When they say a C word in Tuscany, they make it an H word.  Case closed. Or as they might say in Florence, Hase hlosed.  

I’ll have H’s on my mind as I continue my unt for amburgers in Italy.

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