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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Abbiocco’

This word describes a common affliction that almost any visitor to Italy will have experienced.

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

I bet you’ll be familiar with what this word describes, even if you’ve never heard it before.

There’s no exact equivalent in English, but you can probably see why it exists in Italian: l’abbiocco (pronounced “ab-byok-ko”) is a need to lie down, especially the one that strikes after eating and drinking heartily.

It’s defined by various dictionaries as a ‘fit of drowsiness’, ‘desire to fall asleep’, ‘giving way to tiredness’ or – my favourite – ‘sleep stroke’.

And while it’s not limited to eating-induced tiredness, that’s how it’s usually applied. Our closest English translation in this context might be ‘food coma’.

Dopo pranzo m’è preso un abbiocco tremendo.
After lunch I fell into a real food coma.

La pasta mi fa venire l’abbiocco.
Pasta makes me sleepy.

It comes from a verb born in central Italy that has largely fallen out of use: abbioccarsi, ‘to collapse with exhaustion’. While you’ll almost certainly never hear an Italian say “io m’abbiocco”, you might hear them describe themselves as abbioccato/a – ‘half asleep’, ‘wiped out’ – for reasons edible or otherwise.

Sono abbioccato duro.
I’m knackered.

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

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

Can you fathom the meaning of this word?

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

If you haven’t yet found a proper Italian word to describe the unintelligible collection of dots, wonky lines and swirls that Italian doctors often nonchalantly passes off as a prescription, scarabocchio might do the trick.

Scarabocchio is the Italian equivalent of ‘scribble’ or ‘scrawl’ and it describes to any piece of writing or drawing whose meaning can’t be fathomed. 

Ho lasciato la lista della spesa sul tavolo!

Si, l’ho vista ma non ci ho capito niente. Era tutto uno scarabocchio…

I left the shopping list on the table!

Yes, I saw it but couldn’t understand any of it. It was all a scribble…

From a five-year-old’s abstract artworks to a colleague’s poor excuse for a handwritten note, you can use scarabocchio for pretty much anything – as long as it figures on a piece of paper. 

Though it is a bit of a mouthful (pronunciation available here), Italians love to use the word in daily conversations, especially so when it comes to mocking the unfortunate author of the scribble. 

Ti ho fatto uno schema per farti capire meglio.

Ma cos’e’ ‘sta cosa? Mi sembra proprio uno scarabocchio…

I’ve drawn a diagram to help you understand.

What on earth is this? It looks like a scrawl to me…

The word comes from the fusion of scarabeo (beetle) and the pejorative suffix -occhio (also used in ranocchio, meaning ‘ugly frog’, and marmocchio, meaning ‘bratty kid’). 

Though today’s scribbles may not resemble the shape of a beetle, they most likely did back in the days when poor handwriting skills would result in your quill creating circular blots of ink on the paper.

That’s why, to this day, Italians refer to scribbles as ‘ugly beetles’. 

Funnily enough, sgorbio, one of scarabocchio’s synonyms, also takes its name from an animal, namely the scorpion. But that’s a story for another time.

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

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