Never let an Italian food purist catch you ordering an after-dinner cappuccino: “Ma che schifo,” they’re liable to mutter under their breath.
Schifo is how you say ‘disgust’, which is exactly what you’ll provoke in most Italians by drinking milky coffee after noon. It comes from an early Germanic word that meant ‘to frighten’ – the same that gave us the English word ‘eschew’.
In Italian it’s most commonly used as an exclamation…
How disgusting! Gross! Yuck!
… but you can also declare something uno schifo (literally, ‘a thing that disgusts’).
Non andate in questa pizzeria, è uno schifo!
Don’t go to that pizzeria, it’s disgusting!
It doesn’t even have to be gross: uno schifo can also just be something particularly bad or poor.
La nostra squadra era uno schifo.
Our team was a disgrace.
Questo libro è uno schifo.
This book sucks.
Alternatively, you can call something schifoso (disgusting), judge it una schifezza (a disgusting thing), or say that it fa schifo (disgusts you).
un insetto schifoso
a gross insect
I ragni mi fanno schifo.
Spiders gross me out.
Mangiano un sacco di schifezze.
They eat a load of rubbish.
Less commonly, you might hear the verb schifare (to disgust).
Il suo comportamento mi ha schifato.
Her behaviour disgusted me.
Try saying it out loud and you’ll see why schifo is such a great word: to make the hard “ski” sound it starts with you have to draw your lips back into a sort of sneer – you can’t help but look as disgusted as you sound.
Italians who crossed the Atlantic just couldn’t give schifo up: they’re believed to have given American English the word skeevy (gross or repulsive), a direct cousin of the Italian term.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, skeevy first appeared in New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia and other areas of the United States with a large population of Italian immigrants, who must have said schifo often enough that even non-Italians started saying it, too.
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