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Where the fishing boat got its name

Bernard Vassallo was of course right to point out the difference between a luzzu and a dgħajsa tal-pass (January 5). However, the name of our colourful fishing boat has nothing to do with Italian luccio, a fish which is called lizz in Maltese from Sicilian lizzu (also known as lizza in Vizzini).

The true etymology of luzzu is the Sicilian form of Italian gozzo, which is a fishing or transport boat common all round the coasts of the peninsula. The Sicilian word guzzu is described in the Vocabolario Siciliano as a piccola barca da pesca and barca della tonnara (vol. II, 1977, headword guzzu).

The initial consonant in Sicilian is weak and in the eastern areas (the nearest to Malta) it is dropped when it precedes o, u (uzzu, unnella, corresponding to gozzo and gonnella, meaning “fishing boat” and “skirt”). This phonetic change also explains the etymology of our għonnella from gunnella, where the mute għajn is not etymological. The fall of initial g was followed by the agglutination of the article, lu uzzu became luzzu in Maltese and therefore takes the article, il-luzzu. This also happened to il-linka (Sic. inca), il-lasta (Italian l’asta), il-lgħatu (a common but non standard form of l-għatu) and other words. Dgħajsa is recorded by Dozy in Andalusian Arabic.

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