For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Stangata’

Don't let this word give you a nasty shock.

Italian word of the day - Stangata
Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

As soaring energy prices keep driving up the cost of living – Italy’s inflation hit a 37-year high earlier this week – you might have overheard friends or colleagues complaining about the latest ‘stangata’. 

But what exactly do native speakers mean by ‘stangata’ and why is the word so relevant now?

Stangata’ is a fairly common word in spoken Italian and speakers generally use it to refer to any event that causes – or is expected to cause – significant damage to one’s personal finances. 

Usually, the event in question is something that couldn’t possibly be anticipated, as in the following cases:

E’ arrivata la bolletta del gas stamattina…Dobbiamo pagare 300 euro.

Oddio, che stangata!

We got the gas bill this morning…It’s 300 euros.

Oh God, what a blow!

Quest’anno, abbiamo pagato 600 euro per i libri scolastici di Matteo.

Però, che bella stangata!

This year, we’ve paid a total of 600 euros for Matteo’s textbooks.

Wow, that’s a big hit!

READ ALSO: Back to school in Italy: how much will it cost, and how can you save money?

As the above examples show, ‘stangata’ is mostly used as part of an exclamatory remark or reply and it is usually preceded by ‘che’, which is used here as an adjective and is roughly equivalent to the English ‘what a …’. In this context, the most appropriate English translations are ‘blow’ and ‘hit’.

Don’t forget: if you’re planning on using the word in this way, it’s vital that you do so according to Italian etiquette, that is with eyes nearly popping out of your head and the most dramatic look of bafflement painted across your face. Feel free to practice in front of a mirror to perfect the ‘stangata’ face.

Naturally, the word can also be used in a regular sentence and with far less intensity, like so:

Potremmo fare un bel viaggio a fine mese. 

Non penso proprio. Con l’ultima stangata delle bollette, è già tanto se ci arrivo a fine mese.

We could go on a trip at the end of the month.

I really don’t think so. Judging by the latest increase in energy bills, I’ll be lucky if I make it to the end of the month.

Now that you broadly know how and when to use the word, you might be wondering where it comes from.

Well, ‘stangata’ comes from ‘stanga’, which is a largely disused word indicating the wooden board (or pole) people once used to shut their front door or windows from inside the house. 

Following a very common Italian linguistic pattern – just think of ‘bastone’ and ‘bastonata’ – ‘stangata’ literally means ‘a blow dealt with a wooden board’. 

At this stage, it’s pretty clear why the word is used to refer to substantial financial damage – getting hit with a stanga is as painful as losing a big lump of earnings.

READ ALSO: From coffee to haircuts: How the cost of living varies around Italy

It’s also worth noting that some Italians might use the word ‘salasso’ instead of ‘stangata’. Just like ‘stangata’, ‘salasso’ refers to any relatively hard financial blow, though its original meaning is quite different as it refers to the ancient (and, luckily, now-defunct) medical practice known as ‘bloodletting’.

L’abbonamento mensile per il trasporto pubblico è salito a 150 euro.

Ammazza, che salasso. Non è accettabile.

The monthly public transport pass has gone up to 150 euros.

Ouch, what a blow. That’s unacceptable. 

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 ‘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.