We swear that ad agencies for national chains - and the chains themselves - must think we are really, really stupid (although the case could be made that the agencies themselves are).
Case in point - Panera Bread is running an ad campaign where they talk about their "panini sandwiches".
This is wrong on a couple of counts. First, in the Italian language, the technically correct definition of the word panini is "little breads". Pan = bread, ini = plural of the masculine diminutive suffix ino. That's covered in the first couple of weeks of Italian 101.
If Panera Bread was trying to say "little bread sandwiches", they should be using the singluar descriptive, not the plural. But what they're saying in their ads is "little breads sandwiches," which hurts the ears of anyone who's Italian or knows something about the language.
Second, after World War II, the concept of the sandwich became more universal throughout Europe, courtesy of our GIs. The Italians had no word for "sandwich" so panino took on that definition as well in the common vernacular. In fact, there is still no other word or synonym in Italian that means "sandwich". Thus, if panino = sandwich, then Panera Breads' use of the plural "panini sandwiches" really means "sandwiches sandwiches".
Sounds dumb, eh? It's simply panino, if you're talking about one, or panini in the plural. No need to add the word "sandwich".
(We should note that the typical Italian panini you'd find in Rome or Verona or Genoa are pretty simple - a meat, a cheese, a veggie, a spread, if that, often just one or two ingredients, but very good ingredients. Point is, they're not overstuffed American sandwiches. And they're not necessarily grilled. Panino are served both cold and grilled - and some Italians consider grilling as "hiding the true flavors". Regardless, Italians don't worry the South Beach diet).
To be fair, it's not just Panera Bread. Taco Bell has been abusing the term "carne asada" for years when they talk about their "Carne Asada Steak" tacos. Carne asada is roast meat. Carne = meat, asada = roasted. That's it. There is no "set" recipe for carne asada, although just about every recipe we've seen includes chile and cumin. Even the meat itself isn't fixed. The beef used might be skirt steak (traditional) or flank steak or top sirloin or even bottom round. But it's just wrong to say, "roast beef steak" (I lived in Mexico for awhile and made this mistake myself the first week).
We're sure you can find other examples of ad agencies and their clients mishandling foreign languages. If you have any, please send them along via the "comments" link below.
Oh, and if it needs saying - there is no such thing as "panini bread". Traditionally, the "pan" in panino has meant "roll" - these might be round (paisano-style), oval (baguette-style) or flat (like ciabattina) but foccacia is used at times, as are other breads. Thus, panini can be made on any bread: baguettes, ciabatta, foccacia - or wheat, white, rye or pumpernickel if you're so inclined (although it's unlikely you'll see those last two in Italy).
Traditionalists may argue about using sliced bread for panini, but with the increasing worldwide popularity of panini, more types of breads are being used in panini preparation in every large Italian city in order to accomodate diverse tastes. There is a cousin of the panini - the tramezzini - which are tiny snack sandwiches made with white bread with the crusts trimmed. These are often served as appetizers with drinks.
So next time you see a restaurant or sandwich joint or bakery that advertises "authentic panini bread", ask them what official measurement they used to determine their bread is small enough to be "authentic" and what old-world ingredients they use make their bread taste like "panini". Then stop back here and share what they told you so we can all get a chuckle.
UPDATE: There's a new restuarant opening on Banksville Road this winter with a big sign outside that says, "Wood Fired Pizza and Paninis". Arrrgh!