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Italian word of the day: ‘Fregare’

Don’t let this deceptive word rub you the wrong way.

Italian Word of The Day: Fregare
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Like many other Italian verbs, ‘fregare’ can have multiple meanings depending on the way it’s used and on the overall context of a conversation.

It can – and does – cause confusion among non-native speakers.

Let’s start with its most common usage. 

Fregare’ is possibly the most natural Italian rendition of the English verb ‘to scrub’ and, when bearing such a meaning, it is invariably used in relation to cleaning, primarily household chores.

For instance, after a meal, an Italian friend or relative might ask you the following question: 

Puoi aiutarmi a pulire i piatti? C’è una pentola da fregare là.

Could you help me do the dishes? There’s a pot that needs scrubbing over there.

On a similar note, ‘fregare’ could also be translated with the English ‘to rub’, as in this case:

Ho freddo.

Fregati il petto!

I’m cold.

Rub your chest!

But these are just the most literal, and perhaps least problematic, meanings of the verb.

Aside from the aforementioned ’scrubbing’ and ‘rubbing’, ‘fregare’ is also widely used to indicate the not-so-noble act of deceiving or tricking someone for personal gain.

For instance, if someone tried to hand you a fake 50-euro banknote, you’d be well justified in accusing them of trying to ‘fregarvi’ (‘swindle you’).

Interestingly, the popular word ‘fregatura’, which corresponds to the English ‘scam’ or ‘hoax’, stems precisely from the above meaning of the verb.

But, there’s more. While on the subject of illicit or socially reprehensible deeds, it’s worth mentioning that ‘fregare’ can also mean ‘to steal’ or ‘to nick’, especially so when in reference to items of no great inherent value.

For instance:

Qualcuno ha rubato il mio bonsai la scorsa notte. Si dovrebbero vergognare.

Someone stole my bonsai tree last night. Shame on them.

And ‘fregare’ might also be used to refer to the very subtle art of not caring about stuff that others may expect you to care about.

However, this peculiar usage of the verb requires an equally peculiar construction.

You’ll need to place the appropriate personal pronouns (‘me’, ‘te’, ‘se’, ‘ce’, ‘ve’, ‘se’) and the pronoun ‘ne’ (meaning ‘of it’) before the verb ‘fregare’, which must be conjugated according to to its subject.

Cosa ne pensi della cucina fusion?

Sinceramente, me ne frego.

What do you think of fusion cuisine?

To be honest, I don’t really care about it.

Hai ascoltato l’ultimo album di Nino D’Angelo?

Ma chi se ne frega…

Have you listened to Nino D’Angelo’s latest album?

Who the hell cares…

As you can see, this is not a particularly nice way to say that the subject of a conversation doesn’t really concern you. So you might be better off using other constructions.

Truth be told, even when employed with the meaning of ‘stealing (something)’ or ‘tricking (someone)’, the verb ‘fregare’ is barely ever used in formal settings and often avoided altogether when speaking with people you don’t know well. 

As such, use it with caution.

Do you have an 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: ‘Pippone’

Allow us to engage in a little discourse on the meaning of this Italian word.

Italian word of the day: ‘Pippone’

Have you ever found yourself in the company of someone holding forth for many minutes at a time, wondering how you ended up in this situation and when you can make your exit?

Then you’ve experienced a pippone (pronunciation available here): a relentless and self-indulgent monologue from which listeners can’t easily escape.

The pippone-dispenser might be lecturing you because of something you’ve done, or just sounding off on a favourite subject. If they regularly try to corner you for this purpose, they might be an attaccabottoni.

The word originates from Roman dialect – more on its origins directly below – but is used and understood throughout Italy.

Preparatevi ad un bel pippone.
Get ready to be buttonholed.

Ce la fate a risparmiarmi il pippone sul non bere e fumare?
Could you spare me the lecture about not drinking and smoking?

A word of warning to new users: you’ll want to be careful about exactly how you deploy the term, as it comes from the word pippa, i.e. the act of male masturbation.

Adding ‘-one’ (OH-neh) on to the end of a noun makes it a bigger version of itself (see nasone), so you can get a pretty good idea of the broader connotations of pippone.

The Italian language site Italiano Semplice points out that if you want to talk about someone launching into a speech, you should use the phrase attaccare un pippone rather than iniziare un pippone.

Non Attaccàer Pippone Per Favore Marco Giallini GIF - Non Attaccàer Pippone Per Favore Marco Giallini Boris GIFs

That’s because while the former clearly refers to someone giving a speech, the latter could be mistaken for something more vulgar.

Mi ha attaccato un pippone allucinante.
He gave me such a horrendous lecture.

So che ti sto attaccando un pippone, ma ti volevo dare quante più informazioni possibili.
I know I’m giving you a bit of a speech, but I wanted to provide as much information as possible.

Note that this is the formulation you’ll to use when talking about delivering a pippone; the verb pippare refers neither to speechifying nor self-pleasure, but the act of snorting drugs like cocaine.

That’s enough of a pippone for one day.

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