Angus Trumble has a nice post at Paris Review Daily about the ombrellai (umbrella makers) of Piedmont, who spoke a jargon called Tarùsc:

According to local folklore, il Tarùsc was a very shy, small bad-tempered gnome who lived on the slopes of Mottarone and Motta Rossa. He was surly, difficult, and misanthropic. Nevertheless from him the ombrellai learned the art of making the shapeliest, lightest, most lissome and elegant umbrellas in all the world. And in the process Tarùsc taught the ombrellai how to speak his own strange tongue. […]

That was of course the unofficial story. In fact, the language called Tarùsc was documented in the seventies by the ethnographer P. E. Manni da Massino, just in the nick of time, before the last old men who still spoke it died out. His view was that Tarùsc drew upon five distinct sources: (1) Italian, that is to say the reasonably stable dialects of Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria, and the southern cantons of Switzerland, and was therefore built, in turn, upon the ancient bedrock of (2) Latin; (3) German, that form of it that seeped across the Dolomites from southern Austria, and across the Swiss Alps from Bavaria; (4) French, thanks to the traditional alliances that regularly formed and re-formed in the same period between France and Savoy, and (5) Spanish, because of Philip II’s sixteenth-century annexation of the Duchy of Milan. […]

Manni never got as far as plotting any plausible grammar of Tarùsc. He made some progress with his old men, but they were inclined to be grumpy, suspicious, and maddeningly reluctant to share any expressions that related directly to the craft of umbrella-making, because obviously their commitment to trade secrecy outweighed any desire to preserve the language they must have known was on the verge of extinction.

All we have is a few stray words, a list of numbers, some cooking terminology, and names for a handful of farm animals and plants.

The post concludes with a list of such words, and G.L. at Johnson (whence I got the story) ends his own post with:

But as someone who has learned all the supposed source languages of Tarùsc except Italian, there are many words that seem to me to come from something else altogether. A doctor is sbrugnabäcâgn. Shoes are sciärbëtul. A priest is t’zurla. Wander over, read the article, and take a look at the list. Does anyone recognise where these are from? Does Tarùsc look similar to the other dialects of the region?

Good questions, and I too would welcome answers and suggestions.


  1. “Sciärbëtul” reminds me of шкарпетки, the Ukrainian word for “socks”.

  2. rootlesscosmo says

    Could there possibly be a connection to the surname Taruskin?

  3. David Marjanović says

    there are many words that seem to me to come from something else altogether.

    Like… made up on the spot?

  4. boynamedsue says

    sciarbetul. I would bet any money this meant boots at one stage, Scarpe=shoes plus the Lombard suffix -un (big) which can often sound ike -ul, and may have become this in Tarusc. There are Italian dialects where sc- becomes sh- (presumably represented here as sci-).

  5. boynamedsue says

    Apolgies to Admin for the previous multiple post, no idea how I did that.
    Rajòn (a broken umbrella) is clearly from Spanish rajar (to crack/slash/cut/split).
    The numeral “pala” (4) is very interesting, the only languages I know of with p- initial four are Brythonic languages and Romanian. As Tarusc counting is base 5, I wonder if it has some connection to ways of drawing a five bar gate or a similar counting device.

  6. “Italian, that is to say the reasonably stable dialects of Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria, and the southern cantons of Switzerland”.
    A bizarre choice of regions excluding the one to which Italian language owes most of its historic development: Tuscany.

  7. David Marjanović says

    Tuscany is irrelevant for Tarùsc because it’s too far away from Piedmont.

  8. marie-lucie says

    If the umbrella-makers (all Italian) were intent on using a “secret language”, they would avoid Standard Italian words as much as possible, drawing instead on words from obscure dialects and foreign languages. Therefore Tuscany would be underrepresented in their vocabulary.

  9. Sorry, I must have interpreted the sentence in another way.

  10. marie-lucie says

    The original sentence could indeed be ambiguous. It did not give a definition of Italian in general, only of which varieties of Italian were represented in Tarùsc.

  11. Could there possibly be a connection to the surname Taruskin?
    As a devotee of Richard Taruskin‘s transcendentally wonderful Oxford History of Western Music (6 volumes, reprinted as 5 volumes), I had the same question spring to mind. Anyone know the answer?

  12. O, and note the fortuitously quasimetathetic Tarkus.

  13. I too am a Taruskin fan, but I’m afraid it’s pure coincidence. The name Taruskin is probably from the town of Tarusa.

  14. John Emerson says

    Taruskin is not properly worshipful toward Musorgsky, so screw him.

  15. If we are going to get all metathetic and all, what about Tars Tarkas?

  16. Of “the brutal and mirthless Tharks.”

  17. Reminds me of Rotwelsch. Some words are funny, many seem deliberately obfuscated.
    mucareu, mòcul: from mucus
    Kasêr del rondel: Kaiser of the round (= globe/orb)
    Check out the cute little map in Manni’s dictionary (click to magnify) and the equally cute statue (scroll down to Carpugnino). Here‘s an Italian blogpost with some more words.
    Could the name be an allusion to the Etruscans?

  18. A couple of your links don’t work; if you’ll give me the URLs, I’ll fix ’em.

  19. marie-lucie says

    pp: Could the name be an allusion to the Etruscans?
    This occurred to me too: Etruscan being a prime example of a mysterious, incomprehensible language, persons trying to make up a secret language might call it something similar to “Etruscan”.

  20. Yes, that makes a lot of sense.

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