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The definition I've found is "a northern wind" blowing in Spain, France or Italy. There's an old Italian song, however, where the word is used and such a definition would make no sense. To my non-native ears, it sounds like some colloquial usage. The lyrics go something like this:

Mi piaccion nere, mi piaccion bionde, Mi piaccion tutte le donne al mondo, E per il pizzo di una sottana, Perdo sempre la tramontana. L'ho perduta e la perderò.

PS. Excuse me but my Italian is very poor so I have to write in English.

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    It's a very strong cold wind coming from the north, very typical at the northern coastal aerea (Empordà) of my country (Catalonia). You can find some information at Wikipedia.
    – Charo
    Sep 9 '16 at 17:17
  • There are two answers but I'm still waiting for a well-written and coherent answer.
    – Centaurus
    Sep 10 '16 at 16:01
  • 3
    @Centaurus - in what way the existing posts do not answer your question? The expression you need to understand is the metaphor "perdere la tramontana" which is quite an old saying. That is what the song is about.
    – user519
    Sep 10 '16 at 18:56
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    @Centaurus - I am probably missing the point you want to make. The tramontana, be it a wind or a star, is a metaphor for orientation which, if you lose it, you are at a loss, you don't know where to go or what to do. This metaphorical sense is used only in the saying "perdere la la tramontana", you would not say "I am looking for the tramontana, or I found the tramontana", it is a set phrase, a proverb which the song used in its lyrics. What is that you still don't understand?
    – user519
    Sep 11 '16 at 6:28
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    Centaurus, I believe you have now all the information to write an answer yourself, exactly phrased the way you deem it should be.
    – DaG
    Sep 11 '16 at 11:12
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The song you are referring to is La tramontana, sung by Antoine in 1968, actually a French singer.

According to the following source "la tramontana" in ancient times, before the compass was invented, was used by sailors to refer to the North Star. When the star was not clearly visible sailors could easily lose their way. This may be the origin of modern usage of "perdere la tramontana" that is lose one's way or figuratively, be at a loss, not know what to do.

  • Prima dell'invenzione della bussola, i naviganti chiamavano tramontana la stella polare. Quando essa non era visibile a causa del cielo nuvoloso, l'orientamento era impossibile. Forse è in relazione a ciò che il detto citato viene riferito a chi non sa cosa fare. Proverbi

I'd add that the expression is dated and is not commonly used nowadays.

2
  • Thank you for your answer. As for the singer, actually I heard it sung by GIANNI PETTENATI, an Italian.
    – Centaurus
    Sep 9 '16 at 23:32
  • @Centaurus - yes, the song was actually sung by both singers at the Sanremo Festival in 1968. it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_tramontana
    – user519
    Sep 10 '16 at 5:58
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From the dizionario Treccani, tramontana, meaning 2

perdere la tramontana, lo stesso che perdere la bussola, disorientarsi, confondersi, o perdere il controllo di sé.

That is in English

perdere la tramontana, the same as perdere la bussola, losing the direction or losing one's self control

In this case tramontana is employed to indicate the North, that is the direction this wind blows from.

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    That's curious because in Catalan we often say of people from Empordà that they are "tocats per la tramuntana", literally meaning that they are "touched by Tramontane", with the sense that they are suffering some kind of negative effects popularly associated to this wind which can even make them a little bit softheaded.
    – Charo
    Sep 9 '16 at 17:59
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    @Centaurus - the saying "perdere la tramontana" existed well before the song was written.
    – user519
    Sep 10 '16 at 18:40
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    @Centaurus I think I don't understand you. Are you saying that a northern wind and the direction North are literally the same thing? I am not saying I am right, but I honestly do not understand your objections. If you could clear it maybe I can improve this answer to your satisfaction. To restate my position: tramontana is a name for the direction North, and I consider this usage a metonymy, in the same way you could say that someone is "coming from the sunrise" to mean that s/he comes from the east.
    – Denis Nardin
    Sep 11 '16 at 1:25
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    I think we will have to agree to disagree on that (with the aforementioned caveat that it is more precisely a metonymy rather then a metaphor)
    – Denis Nardin
    Sep 11 '16 at 2:59
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    I am going to remove the offending word metaphorically but I consider the second meaning (the North direction) a derived meaning. Also I consider extremely pointless to spend time discussing what literal meaning exactly means, so I'm not going to take part to this discussion, which is bloated and unduly long anyway.
    – Denis Nardin
    Sep 11 '16 at 10:47
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Nel contesto della frase perdere la Tramontana significa (come modo di dire) perdere la testa.

In English:

  • lose your head

  • out of mind

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  • Di certo non “letteralmente”.
    – DaG
    Sep 27 '16 at 12:11
  • Svista mia. Già corretto
    – momomorez
    Sep 27 '16 at 12:15
  • Grazie, @momomorez! :)
    – DaG
    Sep 27 '16 at 12:21

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