Italian word of the day: ‘Adocchiare’

We've got our eyes on this word.

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

“You’re just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off of you…”

We could be referring to an alluring object of our affection, that bag we’ve been lusting after, or a particularly delicious cake.

In all cases, we’re eyeing up something we covet, or in Italian, the verb to replace the English phrasal verb is adocchiare (pronunciation here).

Non fa altro che adocchiare le ragazze.
He’s too busy eyeing up the girls.

Ma niente cioccolatini senza di me, ti ho visto adocchiare quelli che ho comprato ieri.
But no chocolates without me. I saw you eyeing up the ones I bought yesterday.

In these examples, we could translate the verb as ‘eye up’ or ‘to have one’s eyes on’.

Like in English, you can see the derivation – adocchiare contains the part of the word for eye, occhio.

But it’s not always used to express desire for something or someone. It can also simply mean to spot, like you’ve noticed something or can see something if you pay attention.

E se guardate attentamente, potrete adocchiare le rovine dell’antico castello che ha dato il nome alla nostro comune.
And, if you look closely, you can spot the remains of the old castle, after which our town is named.

Se stiamo zitti, possiamo adocchiare uno scoiattolo o addirittura un piccolo capriolo.
If we’re quiet, we can spot a squirrel or even a roe deer.

Se aguzzi la vista, potresti anche adocchiare personaggi ricchi e famosi tra la folla.
If you pay attention, you could also spot rich and famous people in the crowds.

You could also translate it as ‘catch sight of something or someone’.

I miei amici, quando adocchiarono mia sorella, non smisero di battibeccare su chi la dovesse invitare ad un’uscita.
When they caught sight of my sister, my friends did not stop bickering about who should invite her out.

So now you know what word to drop in the next time you’re eyeing up your cute neighbour or a scrummy dessert.

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

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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.