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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Mannaggia’

Do you know the origins of this common exclamation?

Italian word of the day: 'Mannaggia'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Today’s word was requested by readers, who presumably enjoy saying it as much as we do. 

With two sets of double consonants, mannaggia is a mouthful – but a satisfying one. It’s an exclamation you can use when you’re impatient, irritated, frustrated or disappointed, much like ‘damn!’

Mannaggia, che guaio.
Damn, what a mess. 

Mannaggia, se mi potessi ricordare!
Damn, if only I could remember!

While these days it’s a pretty mild expression, its origins are a little darker. Linguists believe the phrase started off in southern Italy as either “male ne abbia” (or in some southern dialects, “aggia”), which translates roughly as ‘cursed be’ or ‘bad things to [someone/something]’.

Another theory is that mannaggia is a contraction of “malanno aggia”, or ‘have a bad year’. Either way, the phrase is pretty similar to ‘damn’ when it’s a verb: like when you say ‘damn them!’

You can still use mannaggia this way today, usually by specifying just who or what you’re wishing ill.

Mannaggia a te!
Damn you!

Mannaggia a tutti quelli che buttano le cartacce in terra!
Damn anyone who litters!

Alternatively, you can add some flair by combining mannaggia with another poetic Italian lament: miseria

Mannaggia la miseria!
Dammit!

It means the same thing, it’s just a bit fancy. And is there’s one thing Italian does well, it’s fancy insults.

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 expression of the day: ‘Fare una filippica’

When your best Italian mate is giving you an earful for being a couple of minutes late, tell him to quit the ‘philippic’.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare una filippica’

As far as idioms go, fare una filippica is one of the most popular ones used in Italian television and print media. Presenters and journalists use it every day as a way to give colour and panache to their reports.

But what is a filippica (literally, ‘philippic’ in English) and, above all, what does it mean to make one?

In Italian, the word filippica is generally used to describe a very impassioned invective: a tongue-lashing, if you will, aimed at a political adversary or any other opponent.

So fare una filippica means having a go at someone, and in a rather ferocious and hostile way.

Let’s have a look at some examples:

Il capo dell’opposizione ha fatto una filippica contro l’immobilità del governo nei confronti delle famiglie a basso reddito.

The head of the opposition harshly criticised the government’s inertia towards low-income families.

Or:

L’allenatore ha fatto una filippica contro i tifosi della squadra ospite per il loro comportamento sugli spalti.

The coach condemned the away side’s fans for their behaviour on the stands.

As you can see, on most occasions, the expression is followed by contro (‘against’) plus the person or people the invective is directed at. 

As previously mentioned, the expression is widely used in broadcast and print media. However, it is also frequently used in colloquial Italian as a way to mock someone who is being overly dramatic or getting unreasonably upset about trivial matters.

For instance:

Sei sempre in ritardo. Sei insopportabile.
Sono solo due minuti. Non farmi una filippica…

You’re always late. You’re insufferable.
It’s just a couple of minutes. Don’t you dare have a go at me…

So, now that you have a basic grasp of how (and when) to use the idiom, you may also be interested in knowing where it comes from. 

Like most Italian idioms, fare una filippica originated in the classical age.

Notably the expression dates back to 351 BC, when the independence of Athens, the richest and most technologically advanced city-state in ancient Greece, was being threatened by the expansionist designs of Philip II, king of Macedon.

Being conscious of the risks Macedon posed to his city’s autonomy, Athenian intellectual and statesman Demosthenes famously gave a number of fervid political speeches aimed at rallying his fellow citizens against Philip II and calling for a mobilisation of Athens’ military forces.

Such orations, whose eloquence and rhetoric are admired to this very day, were known as ‘philippics’ (‘filippiche’ in Italian), hence the very peculiar expression which, through the centuries, has made it all the way into modern Italian.

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

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