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.

Hoarder GIF - Hoarder Trash Omg GIFs

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 word of the day ‘Peloso’

Here's why being 'hairy' in Italian isn't necessarily a good thing...

Italian word of the day 'Peloso'

You’d expect a dog or cat to be peloso/a – furry, fluffy or shaggy – but what about a human who’s peloso (pronunciation here)?

It might just refer to someone who’s hairy, or a hairy body part.

È una giornata fredda per fare un tuffo in mare ma Davide non deve preoccuparsi, guardate quant’è peloso!
It’s a cold day for a dip in the sea but Davide doesn’t need to worry, look how hairy he is!

Le mie sopracciglia pelose le ho prese da mia madre.
I got my furry eyebrows from my mother.

But it can also mean someone who’s artful and wily – the Treccani dictionary says the word defines someone who has their own interests at heart and lacks moral scruples.

Non fidatevi di Claudio, è la persona più pelosa e insincera che abbia mai conosciuto.
Don’t trust Claudio, he’s the most self-interested and insincere person I’ve ever met.

Where did the idea of a sly, self-serving person being ‘hairy’ come from?

A video explainer on the Repubblica news site offers some clues: it discusses the origins of the phrase carità pelosa, meaning a type of charity or help offered by a donor whose underlying motives are selfish.

According to presenter Stefano Massini, the expression refers all the way back to the 11th century, when William the Conqueror (often referred to as Giuliano/Gugliemo il Bastardo, ‘William the Bastard’, in Italian) sought the blessing of Pope Alexander II for his 1066 invasion of England.

Alexander agreed to support William’s military campaign, and was said to have sent the warrior a gold ring along with a few hairs from the beard of St. Peter as a token of his approval.

The invasion was – famously – successful, and to thank to the pope, William sent him a vast array of riches plundered from his new kingdom, worth far more than Alexander’s initial gift of a piece of jewellery and a few hairs.

While we can’t know that Alexander II expected such a high return on investment, these days any charitable donor hoping for similar repayment – or just any giver whose motives are unclear – is said to be offering carità pelosa.

Meanwhile, avere il pelo sullo stomaco – literally, ‘to have hair on your stomach/heart’ means to be completely lacking in scruples and conscience, while avere il pelo/i peli sul cuore – ‘to have hairs on your heart’ means to be cold and insensitive.

One obvious interpretation is that having a body part insulated by hair makes it unfeeling and impervious to any criticism or insults.

Another is that various ancient Greek figures, including Aristomenes of Messene – who fought the Spartans – and the Greek rhetorician Hermogenes of Tarsus, were reputed to have been found with large and hairy hearts in their bodies when they died.

The theory is that at the time this was considered a sign of courage and admirable toughness, but over the course of centuries it came to stand for insensitivity and meanness.

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