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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Pasticcio’

Like all the best things in life, it started with macaroni.

Italian word of the day: 'Pasticcio'

What does pasticcio mean? You’d probably imagine it means the same thing as the French word pastiche, which we borrowed into English long ago. But the French word was in turn borrowed from the Italian pasticcio

Pasticcio, from the word pasta, is what Italians call a kind of macaroni pie – or a least, they did a few hundred years ago.

You won't find it on many Italian restaurant menus nowadays, but it was apparently a kind of beef casserole topped with pasta and baked, which sounds like something I would definitely eat, and was popular in various parts of southern Europe.

English speakers who'd somehow become familiar with this messy, multi-layered dish had begun to apply the name to various sorts of hodgepodges (musical, literary, or otherwise) by the 18th century, according to one dictionary.

– La canzone era in realita un pasticcio di tre melodie diversi

– The song was really a pasticcio of three different tunes

For over a hundred years English speakers were happily using the word pasticcio, until we discovered the French word pastiche sometime in the late 1800s and started using that instead.


Although you might still come across pasticcio in English, pastiche is now much more common.

While pastiche is usually taken to mean a combination or hodgepodge, artfully done or not, Italians take it a step further.

When something is a pasticcio, it’s simply a mess – the kind of mess that you don’t get yourself out of easily.

– è proprio un bel pasticcio

– it's a real mess

– cacciarsi nei pasticci 

– to get into trouble

One place you could look for examples of exactly the kind of complex, multi layered, scandal-ridden mass of irregularities and confusion that would merit the description of pasticcio would be in politics (Italian or otherwise.)

It’s a bit like getting into a pickle in English, but perhaps with the implication of more chaos.

– L'indiscrezione del ministro ha messo tutti in un bel pasticcio

– The minister's indiscretion has got us into a real pickle

There’s even a verb, pasticciare, which means to screw up, mess with, or make a mess of something.

– l'avevo detto di non pasticciare con quello

– I told you not to mess with that 

And a pasticcione is a bungler, or a person who messes everything up.

And yes, it can still also be used simply to talk about pie.

  • un pasticcio di carne
  • A meat pie

So whatever kind of mess you're talking about, this Italian word has you covered.

You can see our complete Word of the Day archive here. 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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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

Can you fathom the meaning of this word?

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

If you haven’t yet found a proper Italian word to describe the unintelligible collection of dots, wonky lines and swirls that Italian doctors often nonchalantly passes off as a prescription, scarabocchio might do the trick.

Scarabocchio is the Italian equivalent of ‘scribble’ or ‘scrawl’ and it describes to any piece of writing or drawing whose meaning can’t be fathomed. 

Ho lasciato la lista della spesa sul tavolo!

Si, l’ho vista ma non ci ho capito niente. Era tutto uno scarabocchio…

I left the shopping list on the table!

Yes, I saw it but couldn’t understand any of it. It was all a scribble…

From a five-year-old’s abstract artworks to a colleague’s poor excuse for a handwritten note, you can use scarabocchio for pretty much anything – as long as it figures on a piece of paper. 

Though it is a bit of a mouthful (pronunciation available here), Italians love to use the word in daily conversations, especially so when it comes to mocking the unfortunate author of the scribble. 

Ti ho fatto uno schema per farti capire meglio.

Ma cos’e’ ‘sta cosa? Mi sembra proprio uno scarabocchio…

I’ve drawn a diagram to help you understand.

What on earth is this? It looks like a scrawl to me…

The word comes from the fusion of scarabeo (beetle) and the pejorative suffix -occhio (also used in ranocchio, meaning ‘ugly frog’, and marmocchio, meaning ‘bratty kid’). 

Though today’s scribbles may not resemble the shape of a beetle, they most likely did back in the days when poor handwriting skills would result in your quill creating circular blots of ink on the paper.

That’s why, to this day, Italians refer to scribbles as ‘ugly beetles’. 

Funnily enough, sgorbio, one of scarabocchio’s synonyms, also takes its name from an animal, namely the scorpion. But that’s a story for another time.

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

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