Italian word of the day: ‘Ammazza’

Italian word of the day: 'Ammazza'
Photo: DepositPhotos
This expression's just to die for.

Look up ammazza in your Italian dictionary and you might find it translated as a sinister command: 'Kill!'

Yes, technically it is the second-person imperative of the verb ammazzare, which does indeed mean to kill, murder or destroy.

But that's not the meaning we're interested in here. Instead we'll tell you what ammazza means in Rome, which is much less chilling: 'Wow!'

Ammazza, che bello ragazzo!
Wow, what a hot guy!

We can't quite figure out why young Romans started using ammazza this way, but we'd guess it's the same instinct that has made various English speakers over the years say things like 'dead good', 'to die for', 'that kills' or 'it slays'. 

In Roman slang, the word has – somehow – come to serve as an exclamation of surprise, admiration, frustration or shock.

Ammazza che freddo!
Man it's cold!

Ammazza, quanto è stato cattivo.
Damn, that was bad.

The term is common in the capital and throughout central Italy, but just bear in mind that people from other parts of the country might not be familiar with it. Your Italian nonna definitely won't. When speaking to an older or more formal crowd, we suggest you use the slightly more genteel cavolo instead.

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.