Main piece:


Transliteration in Italian: omarello, omino, ometto

Transliteration in English: little man

Translation: old man who is retired 

M.P.: This is a typical Bolognese expression, which indicates those old men who are like retired and spend their time looking at construction sites. In the common imaginary they are portrayed in their typical pose, with crossed hands behind their backs.

[gets up laughing and mimics the physical pose]

And yes, this word actually entered the slang of the city because it is sometimes used also as a…a sort of joking insult. Like if someone…I don’t know…If someone acts like an old man, or stops in front of building sites, or repeatedly walks with his hand crossed behind his back, friends will make fun of him saying things like “Do not act like an ummarell”. 


My informant is a 23 years old girl who was born in Bologna, Italy, and who is now getting her master degree in archaeology and Egyptology at the city’s university, and who got her bachelor degree in anthropology and oriental studies 2 years ago always at Bologna’s Alma Mater Studiorum. She does’t recall the exact place and time in which she learnt this word, and neither she remember the first source from which she heard this term, she just knows it is a fundamental part of her “folk-culture”, as she herself defined it.


I myself use a lot this word and my informant mentioned this piece while we were chatting at a restaurant in the city center of Bologna.


Something I have always found quite intriguing is the great amount of dialects present in the Italian peninsula. Every region has its own peculiar and proper dialectal speech, and while in some places, especially small towns, they are still spoken -particularly by the older generations-, in bigger cities, dialects have been transformed into slang and adapted to the official language, that is, Italian. In fact, every main city of every Italian region -there are 20 regions in Italy- has words that are typical to that city -or the surrounding area- only. In the majority of cases, these words are not used or even understood by people who do not belong to that community. 

Furthermore, these words tend to evolve from generation to generation, so it happens that only peer groups understand what is being said or meant through that term. 

In these ways, they can be said to perfectly reflect folklore’s definition of “multiplicity and variation”.

Ummarell, precisely, is one of these folk-terms as, deriving from the Emilian dialect, it’s used by people inside the colloquial lingo to represent not only the old retired men who stop at every building site they encounter -as the original meaning implies-, but also all those people who act in this way. 

It becomes an informal way of making fun of a person who act as an old man, or that has the same behavior of old retired man. In this way, a sort of generational division is created, as the youth makes fun of peers pejoratively associating it with the elderly. 

Additionally, it is also used to indicate those who are nosy and who, not having much to do in their spare-time, do useless stuff like watching construction sites and giving unrequested advices to the ones who are working.