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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Burrasca’

If there's a storm brewing, here's the Italian word you'll need.

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

Today's word has become unexpectedly topical again with the wave of bad weather causing floods, hail and mudslides across Italy: una burrasca is 'a storm'. 

It's not just a few drops of rain we're talking about: it implies the kind of thing that has you battening down the hatches.

Il servizio meteo nazionale riporta una burrasca a circa 120 chilometri dalla costa est.
The national weather service is reporting a storm around 120 kilometres off the east coast.

While the term is used interchangeably with tempesta and bufera to describe any kind of storm, sticklers would say it should only apply to strong winds – specifically, those that measure between 62-74 kilometres an hour, or 'gale force'. As Wikipedia describes it:

Il termine 'burrasca' si riferisce al vento in grado di strappare facilmente ramoscelli dagli alberi e rendere difficoltoso camminare controvento.
The term 'gale' refers to wind strong enough to easily tear small branches from trees and make walking into it difficult.

For any classicists among you, the clue is in the name: burrasca comes from the Greek 'Boreas', the ancient god of the bitter north wind.

One of the reasons the word comes up so often in Italian news reports is that it's used especially to describe strong winds at sea which, as you can imagine, are a particular problem in Italy.

A mare in burrusca is a 'stormy sea', which is the Italian title of this well-known painting by Gustave Courbet.

If you hear un avviso di burrasca ('a gale warning'), it's time to get off the water and move away from the beach. 

READ ALSO: How to stay safe while travelling in Italy


A headline from the Corriere della Sera: 'Stormy seas turn deluxe cruise into a nightmare: the storm on the first-class deck'.

That said, as one Italian proverb has it:

l buon pilota si conosce alle burrasche.
A good pilot proves themselves in a storm.

… in other words, skill or courage comes through adversity.

As that saying suggests, weather-talk aside, you can also use burrasca figuratively to describe 'turbulence' or 'trouble', especially the type that looms ominously on the horizon.

C'è aria di burrasca in ufficio.
There's trouble brewing in the office.

C’è stata burrasca ieri alla Camera, per la discussione della legge.
There was turbulence in parliament yesterday as the law was discussed.

This article was originally published in 2019.

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 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.

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