Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi’s father served as Baltimore’s first Italian American mayor from when she was 7 until she was 19. I wonder if she ever asked him about Maryland’s unofficial motto, which appears on the state seal. After all, Maryland is the only state to boast a saying in Italian, “Fatti maschii, parole femine,” and Nancy’s grandparents were born in Italy.
If she had asked, I imagine Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., who was a five-term congressman for Maryland before serving as mayor, wouldn’t have wanted to discourage his daughter from dreaming big.
“Fatti maschii, parole femine” (the second word is pronounced with a hard K sound, “mask-ee”) is an old Italian proverb. According to the state of Maryland, the phrase translates to “strong deeds, gentle words.” Yet this is willfully misleading. The direct translation is hardly gentle: “Manly deeds, womanly words.” I’m a professional literary translator of Italian, but don’t just take it from me.
Giuseppe Patota, the director of the Garzanti Italian Dictionary in Milan, says that the phrase “has distinctly sexist connotations, and the translation proposed by the state of Maryland misses its literal meaning.” Patota goes on to say that the proverb “belongs to a misogynistic and politically highly incorrect tradition…”