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Italian word of the day: ‘Tifoso’

The Local Italy
The Local Italy - [email protected]
Italian word of the day: ‘Tifoso’
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

We think you’ll be a fan of this Italian word.

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As the Italian national football team prepares to make its debut in the Euro 2024 tournament on Saturday, you may come across the word tifoso in multiple news reports this week.

It might be easy to tell from the overall context that the word means 'fan' or 'supporter', but do you know how to use the word correctly?

The verb tifare means to support, cheer for, or root for, and it’s pretty much exclusively used when talking about sports.

Sono qui a tifare per l’Italia.

I’m here to support Italy.

So a supporter then is un/a tifoso/a. The plural tifosi is used to describe a group of supporters (all-male or mixed gender – an all-female group would be tifose). 

These are probably going to be fans of football teams, but you may also hear people talking about tifosi in relation to other sports too, including auto and bicycle racing, basketball and volleyball.

Whatever the sport, the word implies that these particular fans will be particularly dedicated – perhaps truly fanatical.

You can also say fare il tifo, which also simply means ‘to support’ or ‘to cheer for’.

Faremo il tifo per voi in questa maratona.

We’ll cheer for you in this marathon.

Curiously, the word tifo, which derives from the ancient Greek typhos, didn't originally refer to devoted support for a particular athlete or team. 

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In its literal meaning, tifo refers to typhus, or typhus fever – an infectious disease which can cause an outbreak of delirium in those who suffer it. 

Over time, sports fans in Italy, and especially football fans, came to be labelled tifosi (literally meaning 'people infected with typhus') as their frenzied support for their favourite team was seen as resembling the altered mental status associated with typhus fever.

You could also describe these types of supporters as appassionati, but you wouldn't call them fans – even though the Italian language has adopted this English word.

'Fan' is more commonly used in Italian when talking about admirers of musicians or other famous people. So while you could be un fan di Madonna, you would be un tifoso di calcio (a football fan).

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