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Italian Schoolboy May Officially Get Credit For New Word

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now we turn to the story of a mistake, a beautiful mistake, made by an 8-year-old Italian boy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATTEO: Petaloso.

MONTAGNE: Petaloso, says third-grader Matteo Trovo.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Petalo, meaning petal, combined with oso, meaning full of.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATTEO: (Speaking Italian).

INSKEEP: Matteo Trovo says he made up this compound word, which means, in effect, full of petals, when his teacher told him to write down adjectives to describe a flower.

MONTAGNE: His teacher, Margherita Aurora, marked petaloso wrong because it isn't a word, but she still loved it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARGHERITA AURORA: And so I decided to write on his workbook it's a mistake, but it's a beautiful mistake.

MONTAGNE: Matteo decided that if his word was so beautiful it should be in the dictionary. He wrote a letter to Italy's national language academy, the Accademia della Crusca.

VERA GHENO: We were all, you know, oohing and aahing over it (laughter).

INSKEEP: Vera Gheno, a linguist, was in the room when that letter came in and one of her colleagues wrote Matteo back. She said people would have to use petaloso in conversation for it to be included in the dictionary.

MONTAGNE: Matteo's teacher posted the letter on Facebook and soon petaloso became one of the top trending topics on Twitter in the world. People everywhere started using the word to help Matteo get it in the dictionary. Even the Italian prime minister tweeted about petaloso, congratulating Matteo.

INSKEEP: Now, petaloso is not officially a word yet. Still, Vera Gheno, the linguist, says she hopes Matteo learns that language is constantly evolving.

GHENO: It's not only the rules that you learn in school, but, you know, you can also open your wings and invent new words.

MONTAGNE: So this spring, when the flowers spread their wings and become petaloso, say so and it might help Matteo get his word into the dictionary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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