Italian word of the day: ‘Cianfrusaglie’

This word is far from worthless.

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

Spring is upon us: and with it, the inevitable spring clean. If you’re planning on doing one of those, you’ll want to familiarise yourself with today’s word: cianfrusaglie (Chan-froo-ZA-yleh).

It means knickknacks, odds and ends, bric-a-brac, clutter: valueless junk, essentially.

No one’s really sure what the etymology of the word is, but there’s a general agreement that it sounds like its definition in the vocalisation, cluttering up the mouth and tripping up the tongue.

Dobbiamo iniziare le pulizie di primavera, la nostra cantina è piena di cianfrusaglie.
We need to start doing some spring cleaning, our basement’s full of clutter.

Voglio sbarazzarmi delle sue cianfrusaglie entro venerdì.
I want to get rid of his junk by Friday.

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While you’ll occasionally see it in the singular form, cianfrusaglia (Chan-froo-ZA-yla), cianfrusaglie is much more common – after all, clutter tends to come in a collective.

It’s a feminine plural noun, so remember to use the correct articles (ledelle, etc) in front of the word.

Cianfrusaglie isn’t necessarily just rubbish that someone’s allowed to build up in their home – it can also be cheap and tacky tat people buy at a store (of course, you wouldn’t describe anything that had taken your own fancy as cianfrusaglie).

Curiosare fra le cianfrusaglie nei mercatini è una specie di hobby per lei.
Rummaging around for cheap tat in the second hand markets is a sort of hobby for her.

An alternative word which means something very similar to cianfrusaglie is robaccia (roh-BATCH-ah).

The etymology of this word is clear – roba is ‘stuff’ and ‘accia‘ is a suffix appended onto Italian nouns to give them a negative meaning, so una robaccia is a worthless thing.

Non immaginavo che avesse comprato così tanta robaccia.
I had no idea she had bought this much junk.

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As you prepare to go to your in-laws’ homes for Easter lunch, just be careful who you accuse of owning any cianfrusaglie.

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

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Italian expression of the day: ‘Per cortesia’

It would only be polite to master the noble art of saying ‘please’ in Italian.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Per cortesia’

It usually doesn’t take long for foreign nationals residing or merely vacationing in the bel paese to realise that Italians have three different ways to express what in the English-speaking world is generally conveyed by means of a simple, unproblematic ‘please’.

Now, more often than not, the trio of expressions available in the Italian language – ‘per cortesia’, ‘per favore’ and ‘per piacere’ – creates a fair deal of confusion as to what form should be used and in what social circumstances.

Unfortunately, there is no official grammar rule on how to juggle the above-mentioned expressions and their use is mostly regulated by unwritten social rules and etiquette. So, to help you familiarise yourselves with the noble art of saying ‘please’ in Italian, here’s a breakdown of what each form is used for and, above all, on what occasions.

Of the three forms used by locals, ‘per cortesia’ is surely the most peculiar. The expression’s literal translation would be something along the lines of ‘as an act of courtesy’ or ‘as a kindness’, though, of course, it is generally rendered into English with the catch-all ‘please’.

According to tacit social rules, ‘per cortesia’ and its kin adverb ‘cortesemente’ are generally employed in formal settings, especially in interactions with people one is not acquainted with or does not know very well. So, for conversations with anyone that you might consider a stranger, this is the go-to expression.

Q: Mi scusi, ci potrebbe portare il conto, per cortesia?

A: Certo, arrivo subito.

Q: Excuse me, could you please get us the bill?

A: Sure, I’ll be right with you.

Q: Mi perdoni il disturbo, Dottor Rossi. Riuscirebbe a mandarmi i documenti in questione entro sera, per cortesia?

A: Certo. Provvedo subito a mandarli.

Q: I’m sorry to disturb you, Dr Rossi. Could you please send me the documents in question by this evening?

A: Sure. I’ll send them right away.

As you can see from the above examples, ‘per cortesia’ is usually placed at the end of a question and it is generally used together with the so-called ‘polite form’ (forma di cortesia), that is by addressing the person you’re communicating with as ‘Lei’ and conjugating verbs in the third person singular. 

The ‘polite form’ is usually scrapped in informal settings and so is ‘per cortesia’. Notably, in ordinary conversations with friends, family or other acquaintances, Italians switch to the use of ‘tu’ (i.e. they address the speaker with verbs in the second person singular) and simultaneously opt for either ‘per favore’ or ‘per piacere’.

The difference in meaning between the two expressions is somewhat negligible, so much so that they are often used interchangeably by most native speakers. 

However, for the sake of nitpicking, while both forms are used to ask something of people one knows very well, ‘per piacere’ is specifically used for fairly urgent and/or dramatic pleas. In other words, when you’re begging someone to do something, ‘per piacere’ is the right expression for the job at hand.

Q: Giampietro, la tua camera è un disastro. Puoi pulirla per piacere? Abbiamo ospiti a cena stasera.

Q: Giampietro, your bedroom is a mess. Can you please tidy up? We’re having people over for dinner tonight.

Q: Lo so che non ti piace come persona ma puoi fare uno sforzo e provare ad essere gentile, per favore?

Q: I know you don’t like her but can you please make an effort and try to be nice?

Q: Mi puoi prestare una penna, per favore? Mi sono dimenticato l’astuccio.

A: Ancora? Neanche per sogno! 

Q: Could you lend me a pen? I forgot to bring my pencil case.

A: Again? No way!

Hopefully, the above scenarios have given you an idea of the (very slight) difference between ‘per favore’ and ‘per piacere’. However, please bear in mind that the former will get the job done in almost any informal conversation, so, when in doubt, go for that and you’ll hardly ever go wrong.

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