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Groundhog Day

Gennaio 2013
Il 2 febbraio negli Stati Uniti e in Canada si festeggia il giorno della marmotta, ricorrenza resa celebre dal film con Bill Murray Ricomincio da capo. Le cose stanno così: si osserva la tana della marmotta, se il roditore esce dal covo, la primavera arriverà presto, se vedendo la sua ombra si spaventa e torna dentro l’inverno durerà ancora sei settimane...

di George H. Limongi

File audio:

“Punxsy Phil” and his keepers on Groundhog Day.
“Punxsy Phil” and his keepers on Groundhog Day.
Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, which co starred Andie MacDowell. The film was shot in Punxsutawney.
Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, which co starred Andie MacDowell. The film was shot in Punxsutawney.

Speaker: Chuck Rolando (Standard American accent)

Have you seen the movie Groundhog Day? This 1993 comedy stars Bill Murray as a weatherman who has to attend an annual Groundhog Day ceremony in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, he wakes up the next day and must relive the previous day over and over again. He is finally liberated when he learns to become a better person. Thanks to the movie, the expression “Groundhog Day” now means going over the same problem again and again.


But when is the real Groundhog Day? It’s on February 2nd. And what is it exactly? It’s a popular holiday in the United States. On February 2nd everybody keeps an eye out for groundhogs. This is because, according to legend, if a groundhog comes out of its burrow on a cloudy day, it will stay out. This means the winter will soon end. But, if a groundhog comes out on a sunny day, its own shadow will scare it and it will go back into its burrow. This means the winter will continue for six more weeks.


There are many old superstitions that have to do with predicting the weather. This is probably because farmers wanted to plant seed safely without fear of frost. Similarly, fishermen wanted to avoid dangerous storms at sea. There was no TV or weather forecasts, so they used strange signals and stories to predict the weather.


This old story has now become a holiday and a festival. People meet and wait for groundhogs to come out. The biggest festival is in Punxsutawney and this is where they filmed the Bill Murray movie. People in this town celebrate the holiday with social events, food, speeches and plays. The only language people can speak during this festival is the Pennsylvania German dialect, and if people dare speak English, they must pay a penalty, usually a nickel, a dime, or a quarter for each English word they have used.


Mr. Groundhog, usually “the weatherman”, features in a lot of movies and series. Disney used it a lot, for example in Bambi II (2006): Bambi and his friends Thumper and Flower go and see Mr. Groundhog, to discover if winter will end soon. In the TV series The OC, Seth Cohen realises that he has kidnapped a groundhog on Groundhog Day and even the lovely Curious George dedicates Mr. Groundhog a whole episode on his show!


Here are some really nice sayings we have in English, maybe there are similar ones in your language, too!

- When the wind blows from the west, that’s when fishing is the best.

- Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.

- If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year. 

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Everybody keeps an eye out for groundhogs.
Tutti tengono un occhio aperto per le marmotte. To keep an eye out (letteralmente “tenere un occhio fuori”) è un modo simpatico per dire tenere tenere d’occhio, stare allerta ecc. Si può usare anche al plurale: Keep your eyes out for snakes (“tieni gli occhi aperti per i serpenti”)

Pennsylvania German dialect.
Il dialetto tedesco della Pennsylvania.
Anche se negli Stati Uniti si parla inglese tanti americani sono di provenienza tedesca e il tedesco era molto diffuso fino alla prima guerra mondiale quando è diventato “la lingua del nemico”. Si sente tuttora nelle zone rurali della Pennsylvania, dove si trovano le comunità Amish e Mennonite. Si dice anche Pennsylvania Dutch. Dutch significa letteralmente olandese, ma in questo caso si tratta di una traduzione sbagliata di Deutsch (tedesco).