Folpo and friendsBy
This is apropos of absolutely nothing, but as I was discussing the folpo the other day, it occurred to me that even with my impressive powers of description, a picture of the creature after its refreshing plunge into boiling water might be in order. So here are four of the little honeys, ready for immediate annihilation.
The great thing about fishy creatures– most of which were so familiar to Venetians in days gone by that they could have been members of the family– is that they make excellent synonyms for non-fishy things. The folpo, for example, provides the ideal code word for a person (of either sex) who is overweight — not grossly, but noticeably — in a formless, galumphing sort of way. You might hear someone say, “Look at that folpo” as an individual goes by who looks as if he/she might be more comfortable (and attractive) submerged than walking on land.
A very close relative of this mollusc, in biological but especially metaphorical terms, is the zottolo (ZAW-toh-lo, or zotolo, in Venetian: SAW-to-yo). Official name: Todarodes sagittatus. It’s another one of those tentacly creatures, related to the seppia and the folpo. You may not notice them in the fish market but you might well get a batch of their babies (totani) in a mixed fishfry here. Little crunchy deep-fried objects somewhat bigger than your thumbnail that don’t look like they ever were anything.
The reason I’m telling you this isn’t the animal itself, it’s because “zotolo” is also a common and highly useful way to describe a certain kind of person. In fact, there are people who can’t be characterized as anything other than zotoli because of their particularly unfortunate assortment of mismatched traits.
A person who can — and even must — be described as a zotolo would be someone who would be not only physically unattractive in a way that might be mitigated or even overcome if he or she were to care (heavy, scrawny, uncoordinated, slouchy, clumsy, perhaps also pimply or with neglected teeth), but would dress and/or behave in only a marginally civilized way.
Your zotolo could be the person who comes to the office Christmas party (evening, trendy bar) wearing a slightly frayed shirt and/or torn jeans. Or maybe he or she dresses just fine, but who can be counted on to say or do something that’s just that little bit cringeworthy. In other words, a person who gives the impression of being upholstered, physically or mentally, with the old slipcover from the divan in the basement rec room.
Can also be used as a term of endearment.