Italian word of the day: ‘Cavolo’

Italian word of the day: 'Cavolo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
Why are Italians always talking about cabbage?

Maybe you’ve come across this word already, on menus or at the market.

No, you haven’t misremembered: cavolo means plain old ‘cabbage’. 

Now, while cabbage is valuable vocabulary in itself (minestra di cavolo? Yes please), the reason it’s really worth learning it is that it’s also a surprisingly versatile slang term.

Hear un cavolo pronounced:

It usually serves as a milder substitute for cazzo (‘shit’ or ‘dick’), much the same way ‘sugar’ and ‘fudge’ can stand in for stronger terms in English. But more than just a placeholder, we think cavolo has a certain charm all of its own.

Che cavolo vuoi?
What the heck do you want? (literally: What the cabbage do you want?)

You can use it as a noun, to mean ‘nothing’ or ‘not at all’…

Non m’importa un cavolo!
I don’t give a damn!

Non capisce un cavolo.
He doesn’t understand a damn thing.

… as an adjective, like ‘bloody’ or ‘crappy’…

Che giornata del cavolo…
What a crappy day…

Spero che tu abbia finito quel libro del cavolo!
I hope you’ve finished that bloody book!

… or you can yell it out on its own to express your surprise or frustration.

– Ho vinto la lotteria!
– Cavolo!

– I won the lottery!
– Wow!

Mi hai fatto male, cavolo!
That hurt, dammit!

It even crops up in its own expressions, such as col cavolo – ‘fat chance’…

– Ci presterà la macchina?
– Sì, col cavolo! 

– Will she lend us the car?
– Fat chance! (literally: With cabbage!)

… and cavoli miei/tuoi, ‘my/your cabbages’ or figuratively, ‘my/your business’. 

Se voglio figli? Sono cavoli miei.
Do I want kids? That’s my business.

Fatti i cavoli tuoi!
Mind your own beeswax!

Frankly, cavolo is a word worth giving a cabbage about. 

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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