Just in time for the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, a story has blossomed over the Internet this past week. A young student in Italy, when asked to write down a list of adjectives, created his own neologism. Over the past week the Internet has been enamoured with the tale of “Piccolo Matteo” (Little Matthew), an 8-year-old boy from Copparo, Italy.
It all began with a typical homework assignment which asked to add two adjectives to describe each noun in a list. For fiore (flower), he used the adjectives profumato (perfumed), and petaloso. However, that latter word doesn’t exist in Italian. Or, it didn’t, until Matteo coined it.
In correcting Matteo’s essay, his teacher described it as an errore bello (beautiful error), and wrote “OK.” It could have been left there as an elementary school assignment. Yet the teacher, enamored with the expression, took the word and sent it to the famous L’Accademia della Crusca in Florence.
“La Crusca” is the oldest linguistic academy in the world, and the recognized authority on the linguistics and philology of Italian. There must have been a poetic resonance with piccolo Matteo‘s expression. The motto of the academy is a verse of Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch), “Il più fior ne coglie” (“she gathers the fairest flower”), and perhaps that is no coincidence in our tale. They wrote back and agreed the word was a novel yet logical construct in Italian.
“You put together petal + oso → petaloso = full of petals, with so many petals,” and cited other examples of words in Italian using similar construction: peloso (hairy), corragioso (courageous).
But to get the word officially added to the Italian language, they told Matteo he would need to prove petaloso was used in everyday conversation and writing. So Matteo and his teacher, Margherita Aurora, took their story public. Ever since, the word has been trending on Twitter and other social media. Global news media have run with the story, including the BBC and NPR.
The word has now been filed for trademark with the Chamber of Commerce in Ferrara. Any proceeds generated by sale of goods using the word petaloso will be given to a new local non-profit charity, with the funds going to children’s causes in the Ferrara region.
What can we say? Way to go Matteo!