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Italian word of the day: ‘Teppista’

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

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 mothers 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’d barely ever 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 for the specific T&Cs.

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.

Briefly, 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 by the local community to refer to the gang’s members, has since been used to refer to any small-time offender and, in some cases, to mischievous kids.

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For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Ciofeca’

Here’s a useful word for when you just can’t stomach your drink.

Italian word of the day: ‘Ciofeca’

Who hasn’t at least once in their lives experienced the feeling of utter disappointment and existential despair that comes with opening a drink at the end of a hard day at work and finding it absolutely undrinkable?

Though the English language has no shortage of nouns for undrinkable drinks (swill, slop, bilge water, etc.), Italians also have a number of words suited to the occasion.

While schifezza (crap) and porcheria (filth) are valuable options, today’s word, ciofeca (pronunciation available here) is the more specific word you might want to use in this scenario.

Ciofeca is generally used for any drink which tastes so bad it is undrinkable, especially bad coffee and bad wine

Perché stai facendo quella faccia?
‘Sto caffè è una ciofeca… 
Why are you making that face?
This coffee is swill…

Non ci tornerò mai in quel posto. Il vino che abbiamo preso l’ultima volta era una ciofeca. 
I’m not going back to that place. The wine we got last time was hogwash.

As for the word’s etymology, scholars have hypothesised that ciofeca might derive from the Arabic word šafaq’, which means ‘bad drink’, or from the Spanish ‘chufa’, the type of almond used to make syrup. 

What’s certain is that the Italian version of the word first appeared in Naples and then spread to the rest of the peninsula over time.

It’s also widely believed that the ‘nationalisation’ of the noun happened largely thanks to legendary comedian Totò, who used the word ciofeca in his sketches and movies.

Nowadays, the word is used all over Italy and, in some instances, its scope has been extended to indicate anything of poor quality, not just drinks.

In these cases, ‘ciofeca’ might be translated into English as ‘rubbish’ or ‘garbage’. 

Mi hanno regalato un aspirapolvere senza filo per il mio compleanno.
Ah, com’è?
E’ una ciofeca… 
They got me a cordless vacuum cleaner for my birthday.
Oh, how is it?
It’s rubbish…

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