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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Spezzacchio’

Today's word is in honour of Rome's wonky Christmas tree.

Italian word of the day: 'Spezzacchio'
Photo: DepositPhotos

Alas, poor Spezzacchio.

Thus has Rome's official Christmas tree been dubbed, just hours after its arrival in the capital's Piazza Venezia. But what does the nickname mean?

You won't find it in the dictionary, so let's divide it into its parts: first, the verb spezzare, which means 'to break' or 'to split'. It can be literal…

Gli spezzò la gamba.
He broke his leg.

… or figurative.

Mi spezzi il cuore!
You're breaking my heart!

It's not always negative: spezzare is often used to mean simply breaking something into pieces, separating or dividing it.

Abbiamo spezzato il viaggio in più tappe.
We broke up the journey with several stops.

In menswear, for instance, a spezzato suit is one worn separately, i.e. mixing and matching jacket and trousers, and it's rather dashing. 


Spezzato: a good look. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

If you suspect that Spezzacchio isn't exactly a compliment, though, you'd be right. This is where the second part of the word comes in: ~acchio, a suffix that you can add to the end of a word to imply that it's small, poor or imprecise.

This part's a bit trickier to pin down: it might be a regional variation of the pejorative suffix ~accio (the same one we looked at in the word giornataccia, or 'bad day').

Alternatively, it could be a subtly different one that functions a bit like '~ish' in English, to show that something doesn't exactly fit the bill.

Ha gli occhi verdacchio.
His eyes are greenish.

But when you attach ~acchio to a noun, it usually implies that it's small or young: an orsacchio (orso + acchio), for instance, is a 'little bear'. 

One more (charitable) possibility: ~acchio can also be the equivalent of our suffix '~er' in English, which shows that something performs a particular action or purpose. 

battere + acchio = batacchio
to knock + er = (door)knocker

So Spezzachio is either 'crappy broken thing', 'sort of broken thing', 'little broken thing', or simply 'broken thing'.

None of them are exactly what you'd want your new Christmas tree to be called – but it is arguably better than Spelacchio, last year's threadbare fir, whose nickname derived from the verb spelare ('to pluck') and translated roughly to 'Baldy' or 'Mangy'. Or, as some wags dubbed it, The Toilet Brush. 

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

ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Così’

This Italian word is so useful to know.

Italian word of the day: 'Così'

The Italian language features plenty of very versatile little words, like allora, ecco, quindi, insomma, cioè, and così, which have a multitude of uses and come in handy in all sorts of situations.

Helpfully, as Italian native speakers will demonstrate during almost any phone call, these words can also be used as fillers at times when you’re not sure what to say – but are still talking anyhow:

Ecco, così è, così siamo messi, così è andata

There you go, that’s the way it is, that’s where we are, that’s how it went

Today’s word might just be the most versatile of them all.

Così is a word that you’ll hear used all the time in spoken Italian, in all sorts of different ways. Here are a couple that you’ve probably heard or used yourself:

È così – That’s how it is (literally ‘it is so’)

Basta cosi? – Is that all?

Per così dire – so to speak/as it were

Non si fa così – don’t do that/that’s not cool (literally ‘it’s not done like that’)

As you can probably tell, così in its most common usages translates roughly into English as so, thus, such, that, or like this.

You pronounce it ‘koh-zee’ – click here to hear some examples.

Much like the English ‘that’, così can also be used to add emphasis, as in così tanto (‘so much’) or così poco (so little), or to modify an adjective:

Non è così comune

It’s not that common

It’s used to mean ‘so’ as in ‘therefore’:

C’era sciopero dei treni, così non siamo potuti partire.

There was a train strike, so we couldn’t leave.

You could even use it like this to stress how strongly you feel:

Siamo così così dispiaciuti per ieri sera.

We’re so, so sorry for last night

But normally, when you see it doubled up, it has a different meaning.

Così così is the equivalent of ‘so-so’ in English, which means ‘not good, not bad’ – but is the sort of phrase you might euphemistically use to indicate that you’re not feeling well, or didn’t like something very much.

Com’era il film? 

Così così… ho visto di meglio.

How was the film? 

So-so, I’ve seen better.

(Here, you could also use the word insomma instead of così così)

Le case sono mantenuti solo così così.

The houses aren’t very well maintained.

These are just a few of the many possible uses of così, but we’re sure you can see why this is a word every Italian learner should be familiar with. 

È così utile sapere! (It’s so useful to know)

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

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