Friday, July 27, 2007



I've never studied Italian in school or been to Italy, so take what follows with a grain of salt.

In my garden this summer I planted a type of zucchini called on the seed packet Costata Romanesco. Costata is an adjective meaning "ribbed", and Romanesco is an adjective meaning "Roman". The few I've harvested so far definitely have ribs, and I assume that the cultivar originated in Rome.

But Costata looks to me like a feminine adjective, Romanesco like a masculine one. Why don't the adjectives agree in gender? Why isn't the name Costata Romanesca, or Costato Romanesco? Google has 1080 hits for "Costata Romanesco", 339 for "Costata Romanesca", 4 for "Costato Romanesco", and even 1 for "Costato Romanesca". But Google hits indicate usage, not correctness (899,000 hits for the correct "ad nauseam" versus 1,040,000 for the incorrect "ad nauseum").

I also wonder what implied noun the adjectives modify. In American English we say zucchini, which is masculine and plural in form, even when we mean a single vegetable. Garzanti's online Italian dictionary has an entry for feminine zucchina (plural zucchine), but none for masculine zucchino (plural zucchini). However, under zucchina the dictionary does recognize zucchino as an alternative. The word is a diminutive of feminine zucca, so I would expect zucchina.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, New College Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1979) defines zucchini as "A variety of squash having an elongated shape and a smooth, thin dark-green rind." That definition fits the typical zucchini I see in the grocery store, but the samples of Costata Romanesco [sic] in my garden have a rough, grayish green rind. They are very tasty.

Someone told me a joke about zucchini, supposedly first told by Garrison Keillor. Why do the inhabitants of Lake Wobegon lock their cars in the month of August? So their neighbors won't leave bags of zucchini on the back seat. The point is that zucchini are prolific. I looked for this joke in the online Prairie Home Companion archives but couldn't find it.

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