I have found out that Italian has the phrase polvere del pimperimpera that seems very much like the French poudre de perlimpinpin. This French phrase refers to a powder that used to be sold by quacks and is nowadays used to mean a useless medecine. Poudre means "powder", and I could find in a bilingual dictionary that polvere means "powder" in Italian. I could not find pimperimpera in a bilingual dictionary, so I suppose, like the French perlimpinpin, it is a word that has no meaning outside this specific phrase but I neither speak nor understand Italian. French dictionaries say the origin of the phrase poudre de perlimpinpin is unknown.

My question is manyfold:

  • Does pimperimpera evoke anything to an Italian speaker? And if it does, what?
  • French dictionaries say the French phrase poudre de perlimpinpin was first noted in the 17th century, when was the Italian phrase first noted? French dictionaries don't say the phrase could have been borrowed from the Italian, could the Italian phrase been borrowed from the French?
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    The Italian usage appears to be later than the French one (late 19th century vs 17thcentury) . This may suggest that the term was probably imported from France and italianized. – user519 May 5 '17 at 17:29
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    I never heard the expression before and I doubt it is common usage in Italy. As stated below the origin is from the Medieval Latin term "diatrionpepereon" from a Greek expression meaning "from three spices". The meaning in Italian is close to the French one. – user519 May 5 '17 at 17:33
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    "Le lexicographe Joseph-Philibert Le Roux écrivait dans son Dictionnaire comique, satyrique, critique, burlesque, libre et proverbial en 1750 : « On dit encore de la poudre d'oribus. Pour se moquer de ces poudres, auxquelles les Charlatans attribuent de merveilleuses vertus, comme si elles étaient d'or, ou pouvaient faire l'or. On dit de la poudre de perlimpinpin. En parlant des choses qui n'ont aucune vertu. »" fr.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poudre_de_perlimpinpin – user519 May 5 '17 at 17:41
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    Attestée depuis la première moitié du XVIIe siècle dans le dictionnaire, sous la forme «poudre de prelimpinpin», et depuis 1690 telle que nous la connaissons, la poudre de perlimpinpin est une métaphore permettant de qualifier familièrement «un médicament inefficace» ou «une chose illusoire». lefigaro.fr/langue-francaise/actu-des-mots/2017/05/04/… – user519 May 5 '17 at 17:43
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    Sous d'autres cieux: Cette expression française a su traverser les frontières pour se retrouver en Afrique du Nord principalement au Maroc où il est question de "dwa sidna Moussa" ou "remède de Moise" pour qualifier un médicament vraiment dépassé et qui n'a aucun effet. - expressions-francaises.fr/expressions-c/… – user519 May 5 '17 at 17:47

Personally I never heard the expression, however the meaning in Italian seems similar to the French one you refer to: Pimperimpera: s.m.

  • Nella loc. Polvere di, del pimperimpera, polvere magica usata dagli illusionisti e dai giocolieri;

  • fig. rimedio inefficace, inganno, illusione.


Pimperimpera: masculine noun

  • In the expression Polvere di, del pimperimpera, magic powder used by magicians and jugglers;

  • figurative ineffective remedy, con, illusion.


According the Dizionario DeMauro the term comes from the mangling of the latin term "diatrionpepereon", from which originates probably the French expression too:

  • av. 1891; deformazione scherzosa del latino medievale diatrionpepereon, dalla locuzione greca "dià triôn pepéreōn", “con tre spezie”.

  • adverb 1891; humorous deformation of the medieval Latin diatrionpepereon, from the Greek expression "dià triôn pepéreōn", "with three spices".

The Treccani online cites other forms used to indicate the same term and refers to the French expression:

  • pimperimpèra (o pimperimpara; anche pirimpimpino o pimpirimpì) s. m. [deformazione scherz. del lat. mediev. diatrionpepereon (cfr. fr. poudre de perlimpinpin) che è dal gr. διὰ τριῶν πεπέρεων, comp. di διά «dia-», τρεῖς «tre» e πέπερι «pepe, spezie», propr. «attraverso tre spezie»].

  • – Polvere di (o del) p., sostanza a cui vengono attribuite proprietà magiche, usata da ciarlatani o giocolieri o, nelle favole, da maghi e stregoni; fig., scherz., rimedio specioso e inefficace, cosa che mira comunque a ingannare con false apparenze.

  • pimperimpèra (or pimperimpara; also pirimpimpino or pimpirimpì) masculine noun [humorous deformation of the medieval Latin diatrionpepereon (compare to the French poudre de perlimpinpin) which comes from the Greek διὰ τριῶν πεπέρεων, composite by διά «dia-», τρεῖς «three» and πέπερι «pepper, spices», properly «through three spices»].

  • – Polvere di (o del) p., substance to whom are attributed magic properties, used by charlatans or jugglers or, in the fables, by wizards; figuratively, humorously dodgy and ineffective remedy, thing whose aim is at any rate to trick with false appearances.

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    Would it be possible to have a translation of your answer in English because I do not speak any Italian at all. Common roots with French helps me pick up a few words and infer the general meaning but I would not know if I'm right. Grazie Mille. – None May 5 '17 at 17:29
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    @Laure I took the liberty to translate the answer in English. If Gio feels that the translation is not faithful he can revert. – Denis Nardin May 5 '17 at 19:21

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