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Italian word of the day: ‘Fantacalcio’

Here's one word that unsettles Italian men every weekend.

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

You might have heard the old adage before: “Men pick their favourite football team when they’re about ten and let it upset them for the rest of their lives”.

Now, while that surely applies to most Italian men, the following would also apply: “Men pick their fantacalcio team every August and let it make or break their weekend for the following nine months”.

But, what ‘s a fantacalcio team (Italian pronunciation available here) and why does every Italian man seem to be talking about it?

The word ‘fantacalcio’ – a compound noun made up of the prefix ‘fanta-‘ (meaning ‘virtual’ or ‘fictitious’) and ‘calcio‘ (football) – refers to the game commonly known as ‘fantasy football’. 

Though the rules of the game can vary greatly according to the participants’ own preferences, fantacalcio briefly consists of putting together a virtual team of real-life football players, whom, on any given match day, will score points based on their statistical performance (goals, assists, yellow cards, etc.) and their perceived contribution to the game (usually player ratings assigned by a panel of experts). 

Each team battles it out with its league rivals for the entire length of the football season – the Italian Serie A runs from August to June – and the top three finishers generally earn a cash prize as well as imperishable glory and respect among friends, colleagues and at times even family members. 

Here are some of the most common sentences you are likely to hear from a fantacalcio aficionado:

La smetti di guardare il cellulare?

Scusami, il mio attaccante sta giocando.

Will you stop looking at the phone?

I’m sorry. My striker is playing. 

Quando hai cominciato a comprare la Gazzetta dello Sport tutti i giorni?

Da quando devo studiare per l’asta.

When did you start buying the Gazzetta dello Sport every single day? 

When I started studying for my fantasy football auction.

Se non segno almeno due gol domani, perdo la terza partita di fila.

If my team doesn’t score at least two goals tomorrow, I’ll lose the third match in a row.

So, now that you broadly know the rules of the game and the drama that comes with it, you might wonder why so many people – over six million Italians according to the latest available figures – play it.

Well, football has historically been Italy’s most popular sport and the tifosi (supporters) cheer their teams on with a passion that is rarely matched elsewhere. However, these reasons alone don’t seem to fully account for fantasy football’s success in Italy and the real secret behind the fantacalcio mania might well be impossible to make out.

What’s certain though is that, ever since fantacalcio’s introduction back in 1990, the players have always seen it less as a game and more as a sort of exclusive cult with its own jargon and quasi-religious rituals.

From the ‘studying’ (studio) stages, i.e. players familiarising themselves with the rosters of each Serie A team, to the asta, i.e. the electrifying auction where participants purchase their favourite footballers and piece together their teams, everything about fantacalcio is shrouded in an aura of sacredness.

Vuoi uscire sabato?

No, mi dispiace. Ho l’asta del fantacalcio. Non posso saltarla

Do you want to hang out on Saturday?

No, I’m sorry. I’ll be at the fantasy football auction.

In closing, non-players rarely ever get why fantacalcisti are so obsessed with the game and many of the latter do catch a fair deal of flak from family and friends because of it.

The most seasoned players, however, have long grown indifferent to outsiders’ comments and swear that they wouldn’t trade the game for anything else in the world.

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

Member comments

  1. Sounds a lot like fantasy football in America–by far the most popular fantasy sport. At least in terms of structure & the basic concept. For enthusiasm, I would probably compare it more to American “March Madness”–fans making their own brackets for the big collegiate basketball tournament. While it’s obviously just a minority of Americans who participate in this kind of activity, those who do tend to be, shall we say, VERY enthusiastic about it–so much so that sometimes it feels like EVERYbody is talking about it!

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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.