HE IS a 37-year-old man-boy who calls his mum for help when he gets a flat tire and worries, constantly, that he smells of pee.

Meet Zerocalcare, the self-absorbed, socially awkward, angst-ridden cartoon millennial who has lit up Netflix these last few weeks.

That is if you are not already already acquainted with the star of animation Tear Along The Dotted Line, one of the big-end-of year hits for the streaming service.

For those of you whose remotes have not yet hovered over the show, a warning: this is powerful, emotionally and maybe even intellectually challenging stuff; Scooby Doo, it is not.

I say “cartoon millennial”, but there is also a flesh-and-bones Zerocalcare, the artist behind the animation.

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The name? Well, it means something like “no limescale”, a handle grabbed by the animator from an Italian TV ad so he could join an online debate.

Real life Zerocalcare was born Michele Rech. He looks a little like his creation, even if his eyebrows are not thick black ink blobs and he does not kick about, as he does in the cartoon, with an orange armadillo representing his conscience.

Rech has been big in his native Italy for a while. Now his Netflix show is the most watched in the country. But not everybody is happy. Why? Because Zerocalcare’s machine-gun monologues are sometimes delivered in Romanesco, not standard Italian. The cartoonist, who voices his own alter-ego, is speaking the language of many of the ordinary citizens of the eternal city.

And some viewers – especially in the north of his linguistically diverse country – claim they cannot follow him and resent what they see as TV focus on the culture of the capital.

“Too much dialect,” went out a cry on social media. “We don’t understand.”

This internet revolt reminds me of the fuss, decades ago, when Billy Connolly first appeared on Parkinson and some supposedly baffled English viewers demanded subtitles.

Do not get me wrong: the row is not that big a deal. And will pass by those watching dubbed versions of the cartoon. (The English one features a voice actor with a nasal London twang.)

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But I do think that Italy’s debate about Romanesco is worth thinking about in Scotland, where heavily politicised, visceral language wars continue to rage online.

How come? Well, for starters it helps remind us that there is nothing particularly unusual about our linguistic diversity – or politics.

This is true even at the often ugly and stupid extremes of our constitutional divide – where Gaelic and Scots speakers have almost become political prisoners, their speech weaponised by both sides.

Take the ignorant boors who spread lies about the cost of Gaelic signs or abuse young people, especially women, posting poems in Scots.

These guys – and they are mostly men – could have walked straight out of a central casting office for the European hard right. They are just everyday chauvinistic nationalists and as common as muck on the continent.

Here – as everywhere else – the politics of how we speak reveals deeply felt anxieties about class, about education, and about identity, whether it be national, local or personal.

Yet we are not very good at talking about how we talk. Many of us get confused about constitutes a language, a dialect or a patois, about what is, say, Scots and what is Scottish English. This is understandable: even experts disagree about these distinctions, which are not nearly as important as some of us like to think.

The same conversation is happening in Italy. What exactly is Zerocalcare speaking? The most common word people use for his speech is “dialect”. Me? I do not think this matters at all: what counts is how the artist uses his local language: it feels more emotionally charged.

It is not a spoiler, I hope, to say that tears are shed in “Tear”. But when Zerocalcare cries he uses the Roman “piagne”, not the Italian “piangere”. Would the emotion have felt as authentic if he had said the word in a standardised dialect? Maybe. But it would not have been his voice.

Standard state languages like English or Italian are great. But do we really still need to police the media – and social media – to ensure people stick to them? Because we have so much to lose if we insist Zerocalcare cries in Italian – or Big Yin jokes in RP.

If you do not want to hear a cartoon man-boy moan to his armadillo conscience in Romanesco, click on something else. Not interested in Scots language poetry videos? Cool. Scroll on.

Conversations like this are happening all over Europe, both where language is big politics, like in Ukraine or Catalonia, and where it is not. Nothing special is happening in Scotland.

Rech was asked to respond to the caciara – that means something like hullabaloo in Romansco – about his language, which he reckons should be intelligible for anybody in Italy.

“The series could be criticised for a thousand reasons,” the animator said. "It could be ugly. My voice acting could be inadequate. But the question about Romanesco is ridiculous, it is not even worth discussing. Anybody who is capable of doing their shopping on their own should be able to understand Tear Along the Dotted Line. Anybody else is either talking in bad faith or needs an excuse to get in to the papers.” Zerocalcare, he gets the big picture.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.