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Umarell is one of those words that people like because it references a somewhat familiar concept that their own language or variety has no easy way to name. Wikipedia has this to say about it:

Umarell (Italian pronunciation: [umaˈrɛlː]; modern revisitation of the Bolognese dialect word umarèl [umaˈrɛːl]) is a term popular in Bologna referring specifically to men of retirement age who pass the time watching construction sites, especially roadworks – stereotypically with hands clasped behind their back and offering unwanted advice. Its literal meaning is "little man" (also umarèin), and it is often pluralized in spelling by adding a final s (out of English influence).

Danilo Masotti has written a couple of books on the topic, and maintains a weblog whose main purpose seems to be to promote the books. But there are relevant articles here and there in the media, and there's apparently a band, a restaurant, and in Bologna una piazza dedicata agli 'Umarells'". So I conclude that it's a real thing and not a sort of Bolognese ozay.

[h/t Andrea Mazzucchi]


  1. DaveK said,

    October 16, 2018 @ 8:26 pm

    The term I’ve heard for people engaging in that behavior is “sidewalk supervisors”.

  2. Doctor Science said,

    October 16, 2018 @ 9:45 pm

    Speaking of familiar concepts for which there is no word in English but maybe there's one in another language: that feeling when you can feel a sneeze coming, you're all ready for it, and then … it goes away. What language(s) have a word for it? It's not a culture-specific experience, so I expect there are LOTS.

  3. zafrom said,

    October 16, 2018 @ 10:30 pm

    Instead of the idleness of Sidewalk Superintending, there is the noteworthy occupation of Trainspotting. Bologna does have a Central Station. No need for a helmet, glove, boot, and safety harness. For those looking for more inspirational role models, H.T. Webster's The Timid Soul can fill the bill.
    More specifically for loiterers,
    does have its temptations.

  4. .mau. said,

    October 17, 2018 @ 12:13 am

    Last year somebody even 3d-printed desktop umarells. Although Italian Wikipedia decided not to keep the article, I think the term is moderately known.

  5. Biscia said,

    October 17, 2018 @ 3:17 am

    Oh, no, umarells are definitely a thing. The idea of retirees hanging around construction sites has been a meme for quite a while in Italy, and until a few years ago, here in Tuscany, one would have just called them “omini" (generically, little old men). But as a direct result of Masotti’s book, “umarell” (with the pseudo-English plural “umarells” instead of the correct Bolognese one, “umarì”) has become a widespread loanword for that specific kind of omino.

  6. ajay said,

    October 17, 2018 @ 4:10 am

    This is what the Yiddish "kibitzer" does, isn't it? Hanging around watching other people work in public and offering unwanted and unhelpful advice? I'm guessing here from having come across the word in books; I don't speak Yiddish myself. In my dialect we refer to such people as "consultants".

    [(myl) But kibitzers can be any age and gender, there's no stereotypical kibitzing posture, and they're just as likely to consult on chess games and cake-making as construction.]

  7. Robert Coren said,

    October 17, 2018 @ 9:45 am

    @DaveK: The equivalent that I'm familiar with (as hinted by @zafrom) is "sidewalk superintendent".

  8. Paolo said,

    October 17, 2018 @ 10:11 am

    Apparently, also kindergarten children can be umarell – they are called baby umarell! Photo and details in Baby umarell osservano il cantiere.

    In Italian, the pseudoanglicism baby is used as an adjective meaning "very young".

  9. Linda said,

    October 17, 2018 @ 11:37 am

    English already has a word for these, gongoozler. Though they started out watching canals, not roads.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    October 17, 2018 @ 2:14 pm

    Linda ("gongoozler") — fascinating. I thought from its spelling that it might be Cornish in origin, but according to Oxford Dictionaries and other sources it is now thought to derive from Lincolnshire dialect gawn (to stare vacantly or curiously) and gooze or goozen (to stare aimlessly, to gape). The OED records : "1904 H. R. de Salis Bradshaw's Canals & Navigable Rivers Eng. & Wales 473 Gongoozler, an idle and inquisitive person who stands staring for prolonged periods at anything out of the common". Cf. Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary, Vol.~2, D—G.

  11. Anna said,

    October 17, 2018 @ 2:32 pm

    It happens on occasion that I feel a sneeze coming on but then the feeling subsides which is very frustrating.

    There is no word for this in Icelandic but I think "hnerraheftur" (adj) would be understood.

    But I suppose hnerraheftur could also be understood to mean "unwilling to sneeze". In grade school I sat right next to a girl who simply refused to sneeze. She'd hold her breath and scrunch up her face and concentrate with all her might on suppressing that sneeze. I always found the spectacle thoroughly disgusting. But some people habitually do this to greater or lesser extent.

  12. Doctor Science said,

    October 17, 2018 @ 3:55 pm


    Google translate outputs "sneezing staples" for "hnerraheftur". I can't find the word in other dictionaries or online sources. Is it something you've heard people say? I've used Sneezus Interruptus myself, and people know what I mean by it.

    I myself have a sneeze like unto a mighty trumpet, but Mr Dr Science & one of our offspring do these dainty sneezettes. It may be that your young friend, by nature a sneezer of significance, was trying to imitate a parent who naturally produced sneezettes.

  13. Anna said,

    October 17, 2018 @ 6:23 pm

    Well, Dr. Science,

    Perhaps you should look up "haft" (noun) in your online sources?

    I'm not a linguist and etymology is not my strong suit but I do know that the adjective "heftur" (in hnerraheftur as well as þroskaheftur and other combos) is derived from "haft", a noun.

    "Hefti", on the other hand, means staples (the tiny U-shaped wires).

  14. ajay said,

    October 18, 2018 @ 8:07 am

    But kibitzers can be any age and gender, there's no stereotypical kibitzing posture, and they're just as likely to consult on chess games and cake-making as construction.

    So an umarell is a specific category of kibitzer?

  15. Assistant Village Idiot said,

    October 23, 2018 @ 10:32 am

    @ ajay – I had thought of "kibitzer" as one offering advice that is usually unhelpful, but that sometimes is a neutral word. One source agrees with me on that.

    This is comforting, because I am a person who does this in many circumstances. Not, however, construction sites.

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