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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Rompicapo’

This word needn't be a headache.

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

Learning another language is often enough to make your brain hurt, so you might be glad to hear that Italian has a word for just that: rompicapo, literally ‘head-breaker’. (Click here to hear it pronounced.)

It’s composed of the verb rompere (‘to break’) together with the noun capo (‘head’), and it’s a way to say that something is a real ‘puzzle’ or ‘conundrum’. 

Trovare una soluzione a questa faccenda è un bel rompicapo.
Solving this matter is a real conundrum.

If you’re talking about the kind of puzzle you actually want to do, rompicapo can mean ‘brain-teaser’ – a test or game where being tricky is the whole point.

But if it’s something that’s less welcome, un rompicapo is more like ‘a headache’.  

Questo lavoro è un vero rompicapo.
This job is a right headache.

Non voglio rompicapi.
I don’t want any hassles. 

You can equally apply it to the person who causes you such brain pain.

Il figlio è diventato per lui un rompicapo.
His son has become a headache for him.

You can also use the word grattacapo (literally ‘head-scraper’, from capo + grattare, ‘to scratch, scrape or grind’) as a synonym for ‘hassle’ or ‘worry’. 

Procura continui grattacapi ai suoi genitori.
She is always causing worries for her parents.

But don’t confuse a rompicapo with a rompiscatole (literally, ‘box-breaker’), which is something – or someone – that really gets on your nerves. In other words, a pain in the neck rather than the head. 

Do you have an 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 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.

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