Embarrassing Foreign Language Snafus, Illustrated

If you’re a novice Italian speaker, I’d avoid making any disparaging comments about people’s roofs. In Italian, the word for roof is tetto, which happens to be very close to the Italian word tetta, meaning tit. One misplaced vowel and you could find yourself in a world of trouble.

It’s a mistake that designer Tom Gifford has made before. “I’m constantly making mistakes with my Italian unfortunately. It’s a beautiful language, but not the way I speak it,” he writes in an email. Gifford started studying Italian so that he could speak to his wife, Margherita, in her native language, but often got stuck on words that sounded the same but meant drastically different things. In his series Badger Tax (Tasso Tasse in Italian) Gifford pairs up those words and illustrates the (often absurd) combinations.

Gifford’s images are as bizarre and whimsical as the newfangled phrases they depict. In “Exhibition Monster” (Mostra Mostro), for example, a creature wearing medieval garb and clutching a bow and arrow pops out of a frame. “Hair Hat” (Capello Cappello) is quite literally just hair (very, very sad hair) wearing a top hat.

“At heart it’s all just a bit of fun, so I start with weird pairings of words and then try and visualize them as best I can,” Gifford says. With no budget to buy imagery, he sourced all of the original images from the Flickr Commons archive, often letting the found photograph guide his final product. “Other times I have a fairly clear idea in my head. With Roof Tit I knew early on exactly what imagery I wanted.” In that one, as you may have guessed, the tettos look like tettas.