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Italian word of the day: 'Teppista'

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Italian word of the day: 'Teppista'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Don't let this mischievous word catch you out.


The word teppista (hear the pronunciation here) can be found in abundance in the crime news pages of most Italian newspapers as well as in TV programmes or radio shows.

But the word can also be heard in far more informal contexts, especially those involving irate parents and rogue children.

So, what does teppista mean and where does it come from?

Though it can be translated into English as ‘thug’, teppista doesn’t fully match the meaning of its English counterpart.

In fact, while a thug is usually assumed to be someone who commits serious acts of violence or crimes, a teppista is a small-time teenage criminal engaging in petty acts of vandalism and street theft.

So you won't hear an Italian native speaker use the term teppista for someone who’s committed offences as serious as assault, armed robbery or murder.

Here’s a couple of examples:

Ieri notte, la fermata del bus vicino a casa mia è stata completamente distrutta.
Ah, i soliti teppisti di strada.

The bus stop near my house was completely knocked down last night.
Ah, it’s the usual street thugs.

Un gruppo di teppisti sta lanciando uova contro le finestre della scuola di paese.
Che vergogna. Dovrebbero essere fermati.

A group of thugs is throwing eggs at the windows of our local school.
That’s a disgrace. They really ought to be stopped. 


The term teppista can also be used in a deliberately exaggerated way to refer to naughty kids or teenagers that generally refuse to do what they’re told – just ask any Italian mother.

In this case, the most accurate English translation would be ‘rascal’ or ‘imp’.

Non puoi andare in giro e tirare calci alla gente! Sei proprio un teppista senza ritegno.
You can’t run around and kick people! You really are a cheeky rascal.

Now that you roughly know what teppista means and how it’s used, you might be interested in knowing where it comes from.

The term comes from teppa, which means ‘moss’ in Milan’s local dialect. 


Teppa only became associated with acts of vandalism and petty crimes in the early 1800s, when a group of local young criminals chose the mossy area surrounding Milan’s Castello Sforzesco as their favourite hangout.

Though the street gang, commonly known as Compagnia della Teppa (Moss Company) was disbanded by local police authorities in 1821, the term teppisti, which was originally used locally to refer to the gang members, has since been used to refer to any small-time offender and, in some cases, to mischievous kids.

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