Costruire un tunnel dal Giappone alla Cina è fuori questione.

English Translation

Building a tunnel from Japan to China is out of the question.

According to Lo Zingarelli, this word (clearly an English loan word) entered the Italian vocabulary in 1839, at the beginning of the age of the great engineering projects of the 19th century.

However, this then begs the question - was there no native word before this? The Romans were innovative and excellent civil engineers, and often built aqueducts below ground (notably in Pompeii). I would have thought there would be a common synonym in Italian. Galleria does seem to be used to mean “tunnel” as well - somewhat rarely and mostly for trains.


Galleria is certainly the word I would use for a tunnel as well, including when speaking about a road tunnel (galleria stradale). In my experience (in Italian-speaking Switzerland where there are a lot of tunnels :slightly_smiling_face:) galleria was used more frequently than tunnel.

For example, as anecdotal evidence (in a formal written context), you can see the usage of these words in Wikipedia articles, such as the one for the San Gottardo road tunnel in Switzerland -
Galleria stradale del San Gottardo - Wikipedia
For this article, a search in page for these words shows that galleria is used 58 times, and tunnel is used 6 times (2 instances of which are in the German URL for the website of the tunnel, and 1 to describe the Norwegian “Tunnel di Lærdal”).

Having said that, I certainly remember people saying tunnel because it sounds quite strange. I had assumed that was a recent addition to the list of loan words that people were using, not something that had been in the language for almost 200 years, so thanks for adding that extra bit of information.


Or going way way back “cuniculum” , the Latin word for tunnel:-)


@zzcguns: Thanks for the clarification! A quick look at reversocontext seemed to indicate “tunnel” was more common and I’m interested to now learn it may indeed be used more rarely than I assumed.

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On Treccani, the vocabulary page for Tunnel -
tùnnel in Vocabolario - Treccani
says the following -

  • “Sinon. di galleria e, in qualche caso, di traforo , largamente affermatosi nell’uso, e spesso predominante

So it says that it is widely established in use, and often predominant. It would be nice to know in which circumstances it becomes predominant.

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