Italian word of the day: 'Tormentone'

The Local Italy
The Local Italy - [email protected] • 13 Feb, 2019 Updated Wed 13 Feb 2019 18:35 CEST
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This one's bound to get stuck in your head.


With the winners of the Sanremo Music Festival still ringing in people's ears, it seems like a good time to turn the spotlight on the word tormentone.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Sanremo, Italy's answer to Eurovision

If it sounds like a form of torture, well, it's not far off. The term comes from the verb tormentare ('to torment, pester, nag at'), combined with the suffix ~one that denotes large size. You can translate un tormentone literally as 'a big torment'. 

What's that got to do with Sanremo? It's not a judgement on the entries' melodic qualities (or lack thereof): a tormentone is what you call a song that you hear over and over again.

Soldi di Mahmood è il tormentone di Sanremo.
Soldi by Mahmood is the hit of Sanremo.

Nera e Da zero a cento erano i tormentoni dell'estate 2018.
Nera and Da zero a cento were the big hits of summer 2018.

It's sometimes translated as 'earworm', the slightly too literal name for a song that gets stuck in your head, but a tormentone isn't necessarily irritatingly catchy. You just hear it over, and over, and over again. And then another few times more.

The term isn't just for songs: it also applies to anything that's repeated incessantly, for instance a comedian's signature punch line...

Il comico diceva il suo tormentone in ogni occasione possibile.
The comedian said his catchphrase at every possible opportunity. 

... or a topic that keeps coming up. 

Il matrimonio reale è il tormentone del momento.
The royal wedding is the buzz of the moment.

In fact, you can use it for anything or anyone that you're sick of the sound of.

Questo continuo passaggio di auto è un tormentone.
This continual passing of cars is a real nuisance.

Ma che tormentone questo signore!
What a pain this man is!

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.



The Local Italy 2019/02/13 18:35

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