Word of the Day (la parola del giorno)

Word of the Day: Mettere la mano sul fuoco

Sebastiano Ricci's version of the story

In case you were wondering where I drink my cappuccino every morning, it’s on the Lungotevere, way up by the Olympic Stadium. My cappuccino guy, Remo, is the best EVER. Not only does he craft a heart or flower in the foam of my libation, but he treats me to coffees all the time, and talks to me about how much he loves America.

Today, as I was sipping on my I-wish-this-cappuccino-were-double-in-size cappuccino, some guy came into the bar to ask for directions. Remo started telling him how to proceed, and at the end, he added the ‘Ma non metterei la mano sul fuoco…’ Literally meaning, ‘but I wouldn’t put my hand on the fire…’ In other words, ‘I am not sure.’

The phrase, ‘Mettere la mano sul fuoco‘ means to be absolutely certain of something, so much so that you would place your hand in fire. Where does this phrase come from, you ask? Well I’m glad you did, because it’s quite an interesting story/legend.

In 508 B.C., Rome was held under siege by the Etruscans, led by the commander Porsena. Muzio Scevola, from the Roman side, offered to sneak into the Etruscan camp, and kill Porsena, in an effort to end the whole mess quickly. He snuck in, and by mistake stabbed Porsena’s scribe. The Etruscans immediately placed Scevola under arrest and brought him before Porsena. This Scevola guy was so hardcore that he offered to ‘punish’ his own right hand, the hand that stabbed the wrong guy. He then proceeded to place his right hand in fire, until his arm was consumed by flames. Porsena and the Etruscans were so impressed by Scevola’s heroics and bad-assness, that peace was consequently reached between both camps. Since then, the phrase ‘mettere la mano sul fuoco‘ means to be absolutely sure of a claim, or of the success of an enterprise. (Thank you, random Italian website for that Roman legend!)

In other non-related info, Via Muzio Scevola is also the street where La Vera Napoli is found. And as the saying goes, ‘Metto la mano ful fuoco that La Vera Napoli has the best Naples-style pizza in Rome!’

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One thought on “Word of the Day: Mettere la mano sul fuoco

  1. Pingback: Mano Po Must Live | eitheory.com

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