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Italian word of the day: ‘Rompicapo’

Italian word of the day: 'Rompicapo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
This word needn't be a headache.

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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