Italian word of the day: ‘Furbo’

Italian word of the day: 'Furbo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
Are you cunning enough to learn this uniquely Italian word?

Anyone who's planning to spend much time in Italy better get furbo, and fast. The word means cunning, sly or wily.

Sei furbo come una volpe.
You're as cunning as a fox.

So far, so simple. But it's Italians' relationship with la furbizia (cunningness) that gets really interesting.

While cunning usually carries negative connotations in English, being furbo is often admired in Italy – like calling someone smart or canny. Classic examples would be getting creative on your tax returns or making an imaginative insurance claim, which fans of le furberie (schemes, tricks or scams) call sticking it to the man.

Un commerciante furbo
A shrewd businessman

È abbastanza furbo da aggirare il sistema.
He's smart enough to game the system.

Si crede più furba degli altri.
She thinks she's smarter than everyone else.

“L'Italia è il paese dei più furbi.”
“Italy is a nation of schemers” – said by Beppe Grillo, co-founder of the Five Star Movement.

You can even advise someone to be more furbo…

Fatti furbo!
Wise up!/Show some sense!

… though sometimes it's smarter not to.

Non fare il furbo con me, capito?
Don't get clever with me, got it?

After all, there is such a thing as too furbo: un furbone is a smart arse or wise guy.

Good or bad, furbo is so deeply rooted in Italian culture that sometimes you don't even have to say it: the word has not one but two hand gestures associated with it.

1. Use your index finger to pull down the corner of your eye while looking meaningfully at your interlocutor.

2. Wink while moving your thumb from the corner of your eye down the side of your face. Add a clicking sound with your mouth if you're feeling really expressive.

Watch this video to see furbo in action.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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  1. Very appropriate choice, for me–thank you. I was trying to translate “furbo” into English, for my Italian husband. He was convinced that it was comparable to “smart”, even “intelligent”…

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