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Italian word of the day: ‘Ammazzacaffè’

We've got a killer word for you today.

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

It’s obvious why a coffee is needed after one of those famously large Italian lunches: to stop the abbiocco setting in, or to revive you after a pennichella.

Whether it’s after Sunday lunch with your family or dinner at a restaurant, coffee is seen as so essential that it’s almost part of the meal itself.

It’s just as common for people to follow that shot of strong coffee with a shot of strong alcohol – in order to deaden the caffeine buzz or wash away the taste. And there’s a special term for this after-coffee drink: ammazzacaffè, literally meaning ‘coffee killer’.

In this case, the liqueur will be drunk immediately after the coffee. In some parts of Italy it’s customary to pour it into the same cup you just drank your espresso out of.

The idea of drinking a coffee to wake yourself up after lunch and then drinking alcohol to take the edge off might seem odd to people from other countries, but many Italians will tell you this is the way things should be done.

This tradition was born among the European aristocracy and soon adopted by the masses – not only because it was seen as terribly sophisticated back in the day, but also because the quality of coffee at the time was pretty poor.

Strongly-flavoured liqueurs like sambuca or grappa were used to ‘rinse’ the taste of the coffee from the palate. 

Nowadays it’s still an integral part of any formal (or just large) meal in Italy, but it’s more about enhancing the taste of the coffee and rounding off the evening or afternoon. Any type of liqueur or amaro may be served, from brandy to amaretto or limoncello, though every region has its traditions and preferences.

Of course, you could just add the liqueur to the espresso (making a caffè corretto).

It goes almost without saying that the coffee drunk after a meal should be an espresso, or caffè normale; you wouldn’t order a coffee with milk, such as a cappuccino, and then follow it with a shot of something alcoholic, unless you wanted to upset everyone else in the room (as well as upsetting your stomach).

And a word of warning: though the Italian tradition is a little more civilised, if you’re not used to it you may find the effects of an ammazzacaffè aren’t too different to those of drinking a vodka redbull.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Nasone’

Have a little sip from our fount of knowledge with today's word.

Italian word of the day: 'Nasone'

Give in to the temptation to dip a toe in one of Rome’s historic fountains in the sweltering August heat, and you can expect to be hit with an eye-watering fine.

But there’s one form of relief that the city offers up to all without asking for a cent in return: its cold drinking water fontanelle (fountains) – informally and affectionately known as nasoni (nah-ZOH-nee).

The word’s origins are simple: a naso is a nose, and the suffix -one (pronounced ‘OH-neh’), makes a noun or adjective into a bigger version of itself.

mangione, for example, is a glutton, a mammone is an adult mama’s boy, and buffone – a buffoon or fool – comes from buffo, the medieval Latin word for ‘clown’ and the modern Italian word for ‘funny/silly/odd’.

nasone (nah-ZOH-neh), then, is a big nose. Had it ever occurred to you that the spouts on Rome’s fontanelle look a bit like oddly shaped noses? It will now.

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Tourists fill their bottles from a 'nasone'.
A Roman ‘nasone’. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Un minuto che riempio la mia bottiglia dal nasone.
One minute while I fill my bottle from the fountain.

Nasone is a regular noun, which means the plural is nasoni. Aside from fountains, the word can also be applied to people with big noses – nasone for a man endowed with a large snout, nasona for a woman.

The water from nasoni is supplied by the utilities company Acea and is the same as that which is pumped into Roman’s homes, meaning it’s regularly tested and perfectly safe to drink.

There are more than 2,500 across the city, and the Nasoni a Roma app – despite being a little janky at times according to user reviews – is one of the most comprehensive when it comes to mapping out their locations.

The fountains were introduced to Rome shortly after Italian unification in the 1870s by mayor Luigi Pianciani, who decided to provide free drinking water to all the city’s residents.

The nasoni were shut off for several months when Rome experienced a severe drought in the summer of 2017, but the move was met with heavy criticism by the Italian Water Movements Forum (truly) who said it didn’t do much to help and unfairly penalised the homeless who were reliant on the fountains.

Since then, despite a dry spell in 2019 and Italy experiencing its worst drought in 70 years in 2022, the noses have – so far – stayed running.