Italian word of the day: ‘Schifo’

Don't turn up your nose at this amazingly expressive Italian word.

Italian word of the day: 'Schifo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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…

Che schifo!
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.

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

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Italian word of the day: ‘Delusione’

We hope this word doesn't disappoint.

Italian word of the day: 'Delusione'

Experiencing a delusione (deh-loo-zee-OH-neh) in Italian may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t mean you need escorting to the psychiatrist’s chair.

That’s because while delusione may look and sound like its English cousin ‘delusion’, the word actually means something quite different: disappointment.

Disappointment Disappointed GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Food Review GIFs

The two nouns actually have the same root in the Latin dēlūsiō, meaning a deceiving or deluding, and delūdō, meaning to deceive, dupe, or mock.

But while the English ‘delusion’ has hewn close to the original Latin meaning over the centuries, delusione at some point branched off to its current, quite different, definition.

There’s not much in the way of information about exactly when and how that happened, but it’s clearly a short associative hop from feeling ‘deceived’ or ‘duped’ by things turning out differently to what you’d expected to feeling ‘disappointed’.

Che delusione.
How disappointing.

La festa era, purtroppo, una grande delusione.
The party unfortunately was a big disappointment.

Mike Ehrmantraut Breaking Bad Che Delusione No Che Vergogna GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Oh No GIFs

The adjective for ‘disappointed’ is deluso for a single masculine subject, changing to delusa/delusi/deluse if the subject being described is feminine singular/masculine plural/feminine plural.

Era delusa da come era venuta la torta.
She was disappointed with how the cake turned out.

Devo dire che siamo davvero delusi dal fatto che siamo stati trattati in questo modo.
I have to say that we’re very disappointed to have been treated this way.

A word you’ll often see used in combination with deluso/a/i/e is rimanere (ree-man-EH-reh): rimanere deluso.

You might correctly recognise rimanere as meaning ‘to remain’, and wonder why we’d use that word here – but rimanere also has an alternative meaning along the lines of ‘to become’, ‘to get’, or simply ‘to be’.

For example, you can rimanere incinta (get pregnant), or rimanere ferito (get hurt or wounded, for example in a car accident).

It’s also very often used with emotions, usually those experienced in the moment rather than long-term ones: you can rimanere sorpreso (be surprised), rimanere triste (be sad), rimanere scioccato (be shocked)… and rimanere deluso (be disappointed).

Sono rimasto molto deluso quando mi ha detto di aver abbandonato la scuola.
I was very disappointed when she told me she had dropped out of school.

Siamo rimasti delusi dalle condizioni della stanza d’albergo al nostro arrivo.
We were disappointed by the condition of the hotel room when we arrived.

With that, we wish you a weekend free of delusioni (disappointments)!

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