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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Casino’

No, we're not talking about gambling.

Italian word of the day: 'Casino'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

In Italy, a casino isn’t where you go to play roulette – but it might be where you end up after you’ve bet everything and lost.

First of all, let’s clear up the confusion: a casino as English speakers know it is un casinò in Italian.

Our English word is Italian in origin: it’s the diminutive form of casa (‘house’), the suffix ~ino making it ‘small house’. The term was once used to refer to a lodge – the kind you might use for hunting or fishing – in the days when people had country estates and needed to distinguish between the ‘big house’ and all the others.

Perhaps because of the kind of thing people tended to get up to in said lodges, the term grew to be extended to gambling houses and brothels.

Casino is still an old-fashioned word for a brothel today, though as we’ve seen today’s Italians add an accent on the ‘o’ when they’re talking about gambling dens. That changes the pronunciation too: casinò is said the French way, “ka-si-noh“, with a light stress on the final syllable.

Casino, on the other hand, is pronounced “ka-zee-no”, with emphasis on the middle syllable. And what it’s come to mean is ‘complete and utter mess’.

Ma guarda che casino!
Just look at this mess!

It can apply to figurative as well as literal jumble… 

Col suo intervento ha creato un casino.
His intervention created chaos.

… and also to noise.

Non fate casino!
Don’t make such a racket!

Why? Well, the explanation usually given is that brothels were noisy, chaotic places back in the day, with clients coming and going and women loudly advertising their services. Casino therefore became shorthand for something raucous and disorderly – just like the word bordello (another term for ‘brothel’), which today means ‘mess’ or ‘mayhem’ too.

Ma come fai a dormire in questo bordello?
How can you sleep in the middle of such mess?

But casino also carries the sense of ‘trouble’ or ‘bother’ – usually of your own making. It is, as Brits would say, ‘a cock-up’. 

In questo periodo ha tanti casini.
She’s got a lot of troubles at the moment.

Ho fatto un casino.
I really screwed up.

There’s one more sense you need to be aware of: in informal Italian un casino can also mean, quite simply, ‘a lot’. 

Mi piace un casino.
I like it a lot.

C’era un casino di gente.
There were loads of people.

Try not to mix up the various senses or you might find yourself in a real casino.

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

Member comments

  1. Why are there no bylines on your admirable articles? You credit photographers but not the writers/reporters whose work they illustrate.

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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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