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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Fannullone’

Stop slacking off and learn this amusing term.

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

Allow me to introduce you to my new favourite word: fannullone, or 'layabout'. 

È un gran fannullone come suo padre.
He's a complete layabout, like his dad.

Like our English term and the image it conjures of lounging lazily on a sofa, fannullone is wonderfully descriptive: it's made up of fare ('to do'), nulla ('nothing') and the suffix ~one, which denotes a large size.

In other words, it literally means 'big do-nothing'. 

It turns out that Italian has a string of a similarly evocative words for the same kind of person: there's perdigiorno, 'day waster', from perdere ('to lose') and giorno ('day'), as well as scansafatiche, 'effort dodger', from scansare ('to dodge') and fatica ('effort').

Bear in mind that these words, like many compound nouns (nouns made up of two other words), are invariable. So it doesn't matter if you're talking about one day-waster or several, an effort-dodging man or woman, they'll always keep the same ending.

Siete delle perdigiorno.
You lot are slackers.

Lei è una scansafatiche.
She's a lazy bum.

Why does Italian have so many great words for people not doing much of anything? I couldn't possibly speculate.

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 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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