Italian word of the day: ‘Aspetta’

Hold on a minute. Aren't you using this word yet?

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

As far as the most commonly-used Italian words go, aspetta must be up near the top of the list.

You might not realise this if you’re studying Italian outside of the country. But once you arrive, there’s no doubt you’ll start hearing “aspetta!” everywhere you go. This was true in my case, and the meaning was perfectly clear: “wait!”

‘Aspetta’ is an interjection, or the imperative form of the verb aspettare (to wait, or wait for something). This form is exactly what you’d use in place of phrasal verbs like “hang on” or “hold up” in English.

– Aspetta, penso che abbiamo dimenticato qualcosa

– Hold on, I think we’ve forgotten something 

– Aspetta, non ho finito

– Wait up, I haven’t finished

– Aspetta un attimo, a chi si sta riferendo in questo punto?

– Wait a moment, who are we talking about here?

Of course, it’s often just used alone as an exclamation.

And you’ll almost definitely hear Italians shortening it to aspè.

– Aspè, quel semaforo era rosso?

– Wait, was that traffic light red?

As someone who may never adjust to life in a country where people always seem to be either rushing headlong through things (including red lights) or taking their sweet time for no apparent reason, I find this word comes out of my mouth at least as often as andiamo (let’s go/come on/hurry up).

You can also hear aspetta used not as an exclamation, but as the third-person singular form of the verb aspettare.

– Giorgio aspetta l’autobus tutti giorni per andare a lavaro

– Giorgio waits for the bus to work every day

If you want to talk about waiting you could also use the verb attendere, which is slightly more formal.

It’s also where this comes from:

sala d’attesa

– Waiting room

And you might hear people say attenda instead of aspetta. Again, same thing but slightly more formal.

– Attenda il suo turno dietro la linea gialla, per favore

– Wait your turn behind the yellow line, please

After a job interview you could hear:

– Attenda che le faremo sapere

– We’ll let you know (literally: wait for us to let you know.)

And finally, an Italian saying:

– Chi la fa l’aspetti

– Literally “Who does it waits for it”, meaning that a person who does bad things can expect bad things in return.

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

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Italian expression of the day: ‘Farla franca’

You won't get away with neglecting to learn this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Farla franca'

If you like Italian detective or murder mystery novels, sooner or later you’re bound to encounter the phrase farla franca: to get away with something.

Con Poirot alle calcagna, l’assassino non riuscirà mai a farla franca.
With Poirot on the scent, the killer will never get away with it.

Pensavi davvero di potermi derubare e farla franca?
You really thought you could steal from me and get away with it?

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According to the Treccani dictionary, the expression comes from the bureaucratic use of the adjective franco to mean ‘free’, describing either people that are exempt from carrying out their duties (like off-duty naval officers) or goods that are exempt from tariffs and duties.

One of the first recorded uses of farla franca as a phrase comes from the early 14th century.

The Florentine historian Giovanni Villani wrote that in June 1322, the city of Florence celebrated the Feast of San Giovanni with a big fair, ‘la quale feciono franca‘ for non-citizens – in other words, foreign merchants who came didn’t have to pay the usual taxes.

By the mid-1800s, the expression to mean escaping from some illicit act or risky endeavour without having to pay a penalty. In English (if you were being old-fashioned) you might talk in the same way about someone ‘getting off scot free’.

The la in farla franca is the part of the phrase that stands in for the ‘it’. It doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to fare but can go somewhere else, as long as it’s there.

Non possiamo permettere che la faccia franca.
We can’t let him get away with this.

Pensa di poterla fare franca.
She thinks she can get away with it.

With this phrase now in your repertoire, there’s no telling what you’ll get away with.

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