Those who’ve lived in Italy for any length of time know that few things are more important here than la bella figura – ensuring that you present yourself to the world in your best light.
It’s the perfectly coiffed septuagenarian who shows up at her pasticceria downstairs with her nails freshly painted and her make-up done, or the cyclist who’s accessorised up to the nines with the latest riding gear despite only needing to make a 10 minute journey.
A couple cutting a bella figura on a scooter. Photo: Vadymvdrobot/Depositphotos
The philosophy extends beyond mere physical appearance, however. La bella figura involves acting with grace, elegance, delicacy, and discernment.
And this is doing why the opposite of this – making a bad impression, causing a spectacle, looking like an idiot – is framed in Italian as the direct antonym of bella figura, with the same word stem: the dreaded figuraccia.
Figuraccia is one of those perfect Italian words that deploys the suffix “accia” or “accio” (masc.) to transform a neutral or even positive word into a disgrace (see: parolaccia and giornataccia).
It means an embarrassment or a debacle, the kind of thing you lie awake in bed at night cringing over – like mistaking an acquaintance’s spouse for their child.
I’m really sorry about causing a scene earlier.
Questa festa serà una figuraccia, non hanno preparato nulla
This party’s going to be a disaster, they haven’t planned anything.
Just as in English you “make” a fool of yourself, figuraccia is often combined with the verb fare, to show that you’ve done or are in the process of committing an embarrassing act.
Il premio ha fatto una figuraccia, ha postato un messaggio privato sul suo profilo pubblico di Twitter.
The prime minister made a blunder, he posted a private message on his public Twitter profile.
Smettila, stai facendo una figuraccia!
Stop that, you’re making a spectacle of yourself!
As you go on your way, may you only make of yourself una bella figura, and never a figuraccia.