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"Strega Nona"

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T2Easy4ME #1 Posted Jan 10 2019 - 11:40

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Editor's note: It's worth the read.


I assume you've all heard of the legendary 1988 book by Tomie dePaola, Strega Nona. A brief summary for those of you sadly unenlightened:

This lovely tale follows the elderly titular character Strega Nona, and her dimwitted helping hand Big Anthony, through their few adventures in the picturesque Italian countryside.

The original Strega Nona story involves Strega Nona heading off for a while and leaving Big Anthony to take care of her, let's be honest, hut while she's gone. While fulfilling his duties,

Big Anthony becomes hungry, and thinks to use Strega Nona's magical pasta pot. (An American writing about Italians, of course there's a magical pasta pot!)

Big Anthony has heard Strega Nona's incantation to start the pot up, but he never caught the chant to stop the pot once the desired amount of pasta had come forth. This leads to Big Anthony

flooding the village down the hill with spaghetti. Strega Nona returns from her trip to find the village all but buried, and the villagers reasonably upset with Big Anthony for submerging their

houses and town buildings in wizard noodles. She says the spell to stop the pasta still pouring from the magical pot, and satisfies the villagers by essentially decreeing that Big Anthony

atone for this heinous act of negligence by eating all of the pasta. Big Anthony, farmhand turned starcheologist, completely excavates the village, and, with bloated stomach, learns a hard lesson.

If you're going to speak a spell, have the counter-spell on stand-by!


Now, as a quick Google search will inform you, but just take my word for it, the books are all mainly titled Strega Nona, with titles such as Strega Nona and Strega Nona, Meets Her Match.

Being that we're set in Italy with these lovely tales, one might wonder what "Strega Nona" means. Big Anthony is a nicely obvious name for your average 1988 American reader. His name is Anthony, and he's big.

But with Strega Nona we're left wondering, what really is her name? What does it mean? So, being that this roughly 30 years since it's appearance in print and you no longer have to call your

brother-in-law's mother to ask what her Sicilian mother says it means, since now of course we have a Google that'll do everything for us, we can just type "what the hell does Strega Nona mean" into our

search bar. However, that doesn't mean we should. Delegating all of our inquiries to a matrix of code that we, the average interface user, honestly know nothing about, is a deeply rooted

problem in this society, which also raises moral questions, and concern of Terminator-like apocalypse scenarios. That, and the fact that typing "what the hell does Strega Nona mean" into Google

won't actually give you the answer you're looking for. Let's take this one word at a time, shall we?


My first step investigating this query that had piqued my interest was to open Google Translate. I was careful not to select the first auto-fill suggestion, because that long, long URL had to mean

that the page would open with words already occupying the space I needed to find out what the hell "Strega Nona" means. Being the natural blue-screener that I am, I deftly entered "translate.google.com"

into my search line, and hit "enter". I decided to play it safe, and instead of selecting Italian as my language of origin, I set Translate to "detect language", since here I am assuming that this

robot I've never seen compelling evidence of knows more about my ancestral home-tongue than I do. With a deft cliketty-clack, I fill the first text window with the word, properly capitalized. "Strega".

Google now tells me that it detects a hint of Italian in the word "Strega", which makes a bit of sense, as the stories were based roughly in Italy. (I mean, a town was submerged in noodles. Where else?)

I then learn, by scanning, with my eyeballs, to the right, that the Italian "strega" translates to the American, which is to say English, "witch". And before you ask, yes, my capitalization isn't perfectly

consistent. Dox, I mean, sue me?


So, we have the first word! "Witch"! Which means that Strega Nona's real name is Witch Nona, which isn't doesn't really make sense, even by Italian standards. And Italians thought the FIAT Panda 

was a good idea, remember that? Now for a second I'm stumped, but I quickly realize that "Nona" obviously isn't English, and that when translated the name will probably make sense. So, new tab, translate.google.com, detect language, and "nona". I read the language indicated and I'm surprised, because apparently nona is English, a prefix for nine, which is to say having nine. (Like a nonagon,

a shape with nine sides, dig?) Surely that can't be right, though. "Witch Nine"? Or... wait. If "nona" is a prefix for nine, it might be switched in a half-translated Frankenstein language monster, and

mean "nine witches"! As the thought crosses my mind I seize it. I hold on. I've found it, finally, after a full five minutes on the computer. The truth. Strega Nona = Nine Witches. I lean back in my chair and smile.

And then everything comes crashing down. My face falls, I slump forwards, my eyes prick with salty liquid sadness. That can't be right, because in Strega Nona, there's only the one witch, Strega Nona.

(And her sister in another book but Christ almighty, that's a-whole-nother book.) For a moment I'm filled with despair. Darkness closes around me. But then, light: what if "nona" means something else in

Italian? Eureka! "Strega" is Italian for "witch", and, Google Translate, "nona" is Italian for... "not at". "Witch Not At". "Not At Witch"? It can't be. In a fit of bitter depression, desperation, and debauchery, I start

clicking on random languages. Spanish, nona = ninth. Filipino, nona = Miss, like a lady. Latin, nona = o'clock. I give up.


Days pass. I spent most of this time shut away in my room, sitting on my bed switching between PUBG Mobile and watching Summit1G or Shroud compilations. I wore a bathrobe 24/7, ate scrambled eggs 

with cheese for every meal. I hadn't showered in so long that my hair stood up in salty spikes. Finally, my girlfriend got me to clean off and clean up, for a dinner at her house. At first I was un-interested. What

purpose was there to it? What meaning? Strega Nona didn't mean anything, why should I go and have dinner with her family? Before I go further I should mention that my girlfriend's parents are from somewhere in Spain with a name I can't remember because I don't care. I mean, she's Spanish, what else matters? She wasn't thrilled with my ambiguous response to what was clearly a generous offer. Dinner with a family

of Spaniards, one of whom actually liked me? But Strega Nona was eating me alive. I couldn't motivate myself. Finally, she got tired of my grunt-like responses, and started getting heated. She was raised in

a very Spanish household and her English isn't perfect, so when she gets really worked up, negatively at least, she slips into Spanish. Sometimes an odd word, sometimes a sentence, sometimes a lecture.

This time she slipped into her more artistic style of beration, which I lose track of. I can't speak Spanish. However, I did catch one word. It sounded similarly, no, exactly, like "nona" looks like it should sound like.

I almost cracked my neck, she got my attention so quick with that. The crust fell away from my eyes, my dandruff was vaporized by the sudden moisture of interest seeping from my pores. My dull irises suddely

flared, my pupils focusing impossibly on what she had just said. It took me a full 75 seconds to break her stride. I knew the quickest way to the truth lay in her pacification, so I agreed to dinner, apologized for being a loser, and complimented her family. Finally satisfied, she confided in me the word that had caught my cat-like focus. Nonna. It's Spanish. It means "grandmother".

Like a scene in a bad movie about a genius, my mind started working. Synapses fired, lenses flared, and bisques strained. Strega Nonna. "Witch Grandmother". I fell back on my bed. It all made sense.

An elderly, matronly woman with pasta magically flowing from an empty pot, entertaining the antics of a clumsy helping hand? It was the perfect name. I was complete. For a time. But...


I couldn't stop myself, the cerebral path was already set and I couldn't help but follow myself on a crazy train of thought. Destination: consternation.

If strega nonna = witch grandmother and strega nona = witch ninth/miss/o'clock, why is the book called Strega Nona? I dug deep. As deep as anyone could conceivably dig. I went to Wikipedia, found the individual words, and skimmed the entries. But first, I finished writing this very sentence.

The only information on the entry for "strega" informed me that the style of witchcraft was more Wiccan than, say, Rowling. It's also the name of a liquor, and a P-51 Mustang that competes in the Reno Air Races has been dubbed Strega. Probably after the alcohol.

"Nona" didn't tell me much more. It apparently refers to a "Parcae" in classical mythology, equal to the Greek Fates. Also the name of a Russian 120mm cannon, a hurricane in 1994 was dubbed "Nona", long after a 1952 typhoon of the same name.

The most satisfying result came from looking for "nonna" on Wikipedia. "Grandmother" didn't come up, but I did get two anime characters, the patron saint of Wales, a Turkish singer, Russian actress, American chess player, and a Romanian composer. (No links, I'm lazy and you don't care anyways."


This fruitful search, and worthwhile use of a whole 105 minutes of my life, leads me to believe that the iconic books of the Strega Nona franchise were tragically misnamed. Was it a typo, something the proofreader should have, but didn't, catch? Was it the blissful ignorance of a 1988 children's book writer? The carelessness of the 1988 children's book publishers? Since Tomie dePaola will tragically die in the forseen future, it's safe so say that we'll never know. We'll be left with fond childhood memories, excellent username ideas, and the persistent, nagging feeling that something about those books isn't quite right.


Written, understandably, between the hours of 01:00-02:45 PST on 10/1/2019.

*signature unavailable, I've been banned*

Edited by T2Easy4ME, Jan 10 2019 - 11:43.

GeorgePreddy #2 Posted Jan 10 2019 - 13:59


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I know that nona, in Sicilian dialect, means grandmother because my wife who is Brasilian but born and reared by Sicilian parents uses it.


In two seconds, I asked her about strega and she said "Like a kind of witch" immediately.


So, pretty, pretty, pretty easy for me.


My wife speaks 5 languages fluently which helps me quite often.







T2Easy4ME #3 Posted Jan 10 2019 - 23:36

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View PostGeorgePreddy, on Jan 10 2019 - 13:59, said:

I know that nona, in Sicilian dialect, means grandmother because my wife who is Brasilian but born and reared by Sicilian parents uses it.


In two seconds, I asked her about strega and she said "Like a kind of witch" immediately.


So, pretty, pretty, pretty easy for me.


My wife speaks 5 languages fluently which helps me quite often.

You would be a better investigator than I.

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