Campaign demands Italian dictionary Treccani change its ‘sexist’ definition of word ‘woman’

About 100 high-profile figures from lawmakers to writers have signed a petition calling on Italian dictionary Treccani to change its “sexist” definition of the word “woman”.

Campaign demands Italian dictionary Treccani change its ‘sexist’ definition of word ‘woman’
Politician Laura Boldrini, one of the letter's signatories, speaks at the 2018 Women In The World Summit in New York. Angela Weiss/AFP

Ahead of International Women’s Day, the campaign says 30 different words for a sex worker, including “puttana” (whore) and “cagna” (bitch) should be removed from the list of synonyms.

The words appear as synonyms of the euphemism for sex worker “buona donna“, which is included in a list of expressions that use the word “donna” (woman).

It points out that while the terms associated with “woman” have negative connotations, the synonyms listed under the word “man” are generally positive.

The letter’s signatories include activist and politician Imma Battaglia, politician Laura Boldrini and deputy director general of the Bank of Italy Alessandra Perrazzelli.

“Such expressions are not only offensive but reinforce negative and misogynist stereotypes that objectify women and present them as inferior beings,” said the open letter, which was published in Italian newspaper La Republica on Friday.

The campaign was started by activist Maria Beatrice Giovanardi, who was also behind a similar one last year urging the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to remove words such as “bint” and “bird” as other ways of saying “woman”.

Oxford University Press updated its definition of “woman” in its dictionaries after a similar petition gathered 30,000 signatures.

However, Treccani’s Italian language vocabulary director Valeria Della Valle responded that she did not think the dictionary needed changing.

“It is not by invoking a bonfire…to burn the words that offend us that we will be able to defend our image and role (as women),” Della Valle wrote in her response.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
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.