Last night I went to the local watering hole, where my wife and I go in the late afternoon for a mild sedative and to work on our Italian and dialetto piemontese. We're almost always the only non-Italians.
The owner brought out some snacks toped with anchovies. These were the small flat, brown, oil-packed, anchovy filets just like the ones sold in America in those small tins. They have a strong, salty, almost metallic flavor but they don't have a real "fishy" or spoiled odor. The bones are more like tiny hairs and are not removed.
I asked one of my friends if he would call these fish acciughe or alice? His reply was that the two words mean exactly the same thing. Oh boy, that started it. Everyone put down their wine so that they could talk with both hands and the discussion immediately got passionate. In a few seconds voices were raised, men sat forward in their chairs, the group split into two opposing camps, and the fun began.
A foreigner passing by might have mistaken this for a real fight and could verey well have anticipated the onset of gun fire or at least a display of knives. Of course it was simply the usual discussion among the best of friends who have known each other for 50 years or more. It was, one might say, the Italian version of polite conversation.
Half claimed the two words are identical and the other half claimed that the Acciuga and the Alice are completely different fish. There was some talk that they might be the same fish prepared differently. No conclusion was reached.
My search on the Internet did not produce a definitive answer but I did find some claims that Alice is a dialect word meaning Anchovy. Others argue that Alice is a genuine Italian word.
I have seen some larger fish in our local market that Americans would call sardines (small fish from over 100 species) which are locally called Acciughe and/or Alici. They're usually packed in salt (but sometimes oil) and are large enough to remove the backbone. They most definitely have a very strong "fishy" smell and taste. They remind me of bait left too long in the sun and I don't eat them, even though I like the previously mentioned type.
Does anyone here think they have the "real answer" about the meaning of the two words.
If not, can anyone explain why my phone company is named "Alice"? Does the correct pronunciation of my telephone company have two or three syllables or does it change between English and Italian?
America seems like a dream to me now.