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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare il filo’

You're sure to fall for this flirtatious phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Fare il filo'
Photo: DepositPhotos

Many's the foreigner who's come to Italy and fallen in love. Half the other transplants I know in Rome seem to be here for a ragazzo or ragazza. 

But what comes before you pack a bag and up sticks for love? That would be 'making the thread'.

Fare il filo (literally, 'to make the thread') is an expression suggested by one of our Italian readers, who defined it thus: “It means when you like somebody and you would like that person to be your boyfriend or girlfriend, you engage in a series of small actions…”

In other words, flirting.

READ ALSO: How to talk about love, sex and dating in Italian

You fare il filo a qualcuno ('make the thread to someone') when you're pursuing them or wooing them. 

Fa il filo a tutti i ragazzi.
She goes after all the guys.

Sono tre anni che le faccio il filo ma lei non mi considera neanche un po'.
For three years I've been chasing after her but she won't even look at me that way.

I like to imagine it involves casting a fishing line and reeling in the object of your affection (but in a sexy way).

Though I've also heard tell it comes from the image of a spider weaving its web to catch prey (definitely not sexy), that it derives from the Greek word philo ('love'), or that it means wanting to be always by someone's side as if you're tied by thread (sweet, I guess, if inconvenient).

Whichever version you prefer, good luck 'making your thread' – and who knows where it will lead you.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan 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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