Cancel, call off, back out, retract: there’s one Italian word that combines all these meanings in one.
Disdire literally translates as ‘to unsay’, but really more describes the act of putting an end to something (for ‘unsay’ itself you’d tend to use other Italian verbs, like ritrattare or rimangiare).
As a foreigner in Italy, the first time you’ll encounter disdire is often in the context of cancelling a contract or a subscription.
For anything from ending your rental agreement to unsubscribing from a magazine or even pre-emptively opting out of a mailing list, you’ll see the word crop up.
Ho disdetto il contratto d’affitto oggi.
I gave notice on my lease today.
Dovresti disdire l’abbonamento, quella rivista non la leggi mai.
You should cancel your subscription, you never read that magazine.
Outside of these technical situations, disdire can be used to talk about cancelling or calling off an appointment or event – or excusing yourself from someone else’s.
Abbiamo dovuto disdire la nostra vacanza in Francia perché Claudio si è ammalato.
We had to cancel our holiday in France because Claudio fell ill.
Mi dispiace tanto ma devo disdire la cena, non me la posso permettere.
I’m really sorry but I’m going to have to back out of dinner, I can’t afford it.
It can also mean to ‘take something back’ in the sense of retracting it – or in a more negative sense, to go back on your word.
Ha disdetto tutte le sue accuse.
He’s dropped all his charges.
Laura disdice troppo spesso le sue promesse, non mi fido di lei.
Laura breaks her promises too often, I don’t trust her.
Finally, disdire is sometimes used in formal language to mean ‘to be unbecoming’.
Le sue azioni si disdicono a un funzionario eletto.
Your actions are unbecoming of an elected official.
If you’ve come this far, don’t back out now! See if you can memorise disdire and use it in a sentence this week.
Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.