Italian word of the day: ‘Zitto’

Italian word of the day: 'Zitto'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Shut up and listen to this one.

No one could ever accuse Italians of being quiet people. If you want to get their attention (or just give your ears a break), there are times when you’ll need to know what to yell to get everyone else to shut the heck up.

For times like these, we bring you: zitto.

It means ‘quiet’ or ‘silent’, and you can use it either as a description or an instruction.

Quello chiacchierone non riesce a restare zitto un minuto.
That chatterbox can’t keep quiet a single minute.

Zitti! Sta per cominciare il concerto.
Quiet, everyone! The concert is about to start.

Zitto! O ti caccio via.
Shut up or I’ll kick you out.

To Italian ears, the word is onomatopoeic: it sounds like the noise of hushing someone. Think about it: have you ever hissed ‘ztttt’ to tell someone to keep their mouth shut? That’s where zitto comes from.

You can make it slightly more polite by saying stare zitto (‘be quiet’) instead of zitto alone. 

State zitti, per favore!
Please be quiet!

Then there’s making someone else shut up (far stare zitto qualcuno), rather than just asking them.

Non riusciranno a farmi stare zitto.
They can’t keep me quiet.

You can also zittire someone: ‘hush’ or ‘silence’ them. You can even do it to yourself, if you just mean that you stopped talking.

L’oratore zittì all’improvviso.
The speaker suddenly fell silent.

And doing things alla zitta or zitto zitto means doing them ‘on the quiet’ – ‘hush hush’. 

Si sono sposati alla zitta.
They got married on the quiet.

So that’s how to say ‘zip it’ in Italian, but we should make a disclaimer: there’s no guarantee anyone will listen.

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

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