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Italian expression of the day: ‘Che barba’

Telling people how bored you are has never been so amusing.

'Che barba' on a chalkboard background.
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Life in Italy is anything but boring, especially when you’re learning the language. Every conversation opens up new opportunities to test your vocabulary, learn something new, or make a total fool of yourself.

Still, you might like to know when Italians are telling you they’re bored or tired of something – particularly if they do so using this phrase.

Literally “what a beard,” che barba means “what a bore.”

Perhaps this means whatever’s happening is about as exciting as watching a beard grow. But I like to imagine it’s a reference to a particularly long-winded – and long-bearded – professor who regularly puts his students to sleep.

In any case, if you hear someone suddenly exclaim che barba!” they’re not complimenting someone’s excellent facial hair.

– Non ti è piaciuto il film?

– No. Che barba!

– Didn’t you like the film?

– No! What a bore.

Or you can dispense with words altogether as, being Italian, this phrase has its own hand gesture. If you see an Italian stroking an imaginary beard, they’re probably not contemplating the meaning of life.

For example:

– How was Italian class today?

– (Silent stroking of chin)


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

Member comments

  1. I seem to recall during my time in Northern Italy, that this expression also referred to the fact that men had to shave every day; a boring fact of life. The gesture is close to one of my favourites: the quick, multiple flick of all four fingers under the chin denoting ‘I couldn’t care less’ (me ne frega….). So not to be confused, even if the end result can be similar!

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For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Delusione’

We hope this word doesn't disappoint.

Italian word of the day: 'Delusione'

Experiencing a delusione (deh-loo-zee-OH-neh) in Italian may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t mean you need escorting to the psychiatrist’s chair.

That’s because while delusione may look and sound like its English cousin ‘delusion’, the word actually means something quite different: disappointment.

Disappointment Disappointed GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Food Review GIFs

The two nouns actually have the same root in the Latin dēlūsiō, meaning a deceiving or deluding, and delūdō, meaning to deceive, dupe, or mock.

But while the English ‘delusion’ has hewn close to the original Latin meaning over the centuries, delusione at some point branched off to its current, quite different, definition.

There’s not much in the way of information about exactly when and how that happened, but it’s clearly a short associative hop from feeling ‘deceived’ or ‘duped’ by things turning out differently to what you’d expected to feeling ‘disappointed’.

Che delusione.
How disappointing.

La festa era, purtroppo, una grande delusione.
The party unfortunately was a big disappointment.

Mike Ehrmantraut Breaking Bad Che Delusione No Che Vergogna GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Oh No GIFs

The adjective for ‘disappointed’ is deluso for a single masculine subject, changing to delusa/delusi/deluse if the subject being described is feminine singular/masculine plural/feminine plural.

Era delusa da come era venuta la torta.
She was disappointed with how the cake turned out.

Devo dire che siamo davvero delusi dal fatto che siamo stati trattati in questo modo.
I have to say that we’re very disappointed to have been treated this way.

A word you’ll often see used in combination with deluso/a/i/e is rimanere (ree-man-EH-reh): rimanere deluso.

You might correctly recognise rimanere as meaning ‘to remain’, and wonder why we’d use that word here – but rimanere also has an alternative meaning along the lines of ‘to become’, ‘to get’, or simply ‘to be’.

For example, you can rimanere incinta (get pregnant), or rimanere ferito (get hurt or wounded, for example in a car accident).

It’s also very often used with emotions, usually those experienced in the moment rather than long-term ones: you can rimanere sorpreso (be surprised), rimanere triste (be sad), rimanere scioccato (be shocked)… and rimanere deluso (be disappointed).

Sono rimasto molto deluso quando mi ha detto di aver abbandonato la scuola.
I was very disappointed when she told me she had dropped out of school.

Siamo rimasti delusi dalle condizioni della stanza d’albergo al nostro arrivo.
We were disappointed by the condition of the hotel room when we arrived.

With that, we wish you a weekend free of delusioni (disappointments)!

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