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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

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 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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