Italian word of the day: ‘Scemo’

Italian word of the day: 'Scemo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Have you mastered this Italian word yet? You'd be a fool not to.
Italian has no shortage of insulting words which aren't too shocking to use in front of nonna. Today's word, suggested by a reader, is just one example.
Scemo (pronounced shay-moh) is commonly used by Italians in much the same way English speakers might use “stupid”, “dumb”, or “daft”.
Ma sei scemo?
– Are you stupid? / What's wrong with you?
– non sono mica così scemo da credere alle sue frottole!
– I'm not dumb enough to believe his lies!
As with all Italian adjectives, the ending of scemo/a/i/e changes depending on whether the person or group of people you're talking about is male or female.
It can also be used as a noun, meaning “fool” or “idiot”.
– lo scemo del paese
– the village idiot

Scemo is just one of many possible synonyms for idiota, including cretino,  stupido, sciocco, and deficiente.
It's an old word, which pops up everywhere from Italian opera to the works of Dante, but the modern meaning has shifted slightly.
As the Italian language teachers at My Italian Circle point out, the original meaning of scemo was “lacking, missing, empty.”
For example, they explain, the protagonist of the 1843 opera Don Pasquale is described in this passage as “scemo di cervello“: brainless, or empty-headed.
And the phrase fare lo scemo is equivalent to the English “acting the fool”: being silly on purpose to get a reaction.
Smettila di fare lo scemo!
– Stop messing about!
See our complete Word of the Day archive here. 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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