For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Whatsappino’

Here’s one for the pioneers of the Italian language.

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

Much to the dismay of purists, dozens of new words are regularly added to the Italian vocabulary by the Accademia della Crusca, Italy’s most authoritative linguistic academy.

Though most additions are ‘Italianisations’ of popular foreign nouns or expressions, words of more dubious linguistic value also make the cut every now and then. 

If whatsappino – a term whose online popularity seems to be growing by the minute – were to be one of the Accademia’s new entries for 2023, we’d likely have to place it under the latter category.

As you might have already guessed, a whatsappino (pronounced ‘whats-up-eeno’) is any text or voice message exchanged through the well-known Whatsapp Messenger platform. 

This noun is made up of ‘whatsapp’ and the diminutive suffix ‘-ino’, used for a particularly small item (for instance, a ‘tazzina’ is a small cup) or something exceptionally cute and adorable (a ‘gattino’ is a cat that’s very lovable).

Esci stasera?

Non lo so ancora. Dopo ti mando un whatsappino.

Are you going out tonight?

I don’t know yet. I’ll send you a short message later. 

Mandami un whatsappino con la lista della spesa quando puoi.

Please send me a message with the shopping list when you have a minute.

It is still unclear who exactly felt that the words messaggio (message) or messaggino (short message) were no longer good enough for the job at hand and chose to gift Italian society with whatsappino, but one of the first reported usages dates back to 2013, when TV host Carlo Conti used it in his book ‘Cosa sarà dei migliori anni?’ (‘What will it be of the best years’).

So it appears that, once again, a great change started with a great mind.

At any rate, the word whatsappino didn’t really catch on among Italian speakers until very recently.

Usage seems to have multiplied almost overnight, likely spurred by social media conversations on the topic. 

So, should you ever have any pressing urges to start using ‘whatsappino’ in your conversations with locals, when would it be best to use it?

As with most neologisms, T&Cs regarding the usage of the word are still pretty vague.

However, it would be wise to only use whatsappino in informal settings and with people you know – Italian aunties seem to have a natural penchant for ‘whatsappini‘, so they might be a good place to start. 

You should also be aware that using the word in formal circumstances might very well result in a bunch of hostile glares or, even worse, in the quintessentially Italian ‘Ma come parli?!’, which is roughly translatable into English as ‘What on earth are you saying?’.

So, pending further developments, use whatsappino cautiously.

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

Member comments

  1. Thanks for this cute addition to my vocabulary and for the discussion of its burgeoning usage. Molto bello.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Italian expression of the day: ‘Avere un diavolo per capello’

No need to blow your top about this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Avere un diavolo per capello'

At one point or another, we’ve all had un diavolo per capello – ‘a devil by the hair’.

This isn’t a devil on your shoulder – the little voice encouraging you do so something bad or mischievous.

The demon is this phrase isn’t devious but seething, making the person whose locks it is clutching furious, enraged, or extremely irritable.

State attenti alla signora Russo, ha un diavolo per capello stamattina. 
Watch out for Mrs. Russo, she’s in a foul mood this morning.

Ha abbandonato la riunione con un diavolo per capello.
He walked out of the meeting in a fury.

You might picture someone tearing their hair out in rage, or a furious djinn perched on someone’s head directing their movements.

Angry Inside Out GIF by Disney Pixar

Another common Italian expression involving the devil is fare il diavolo a quattro.

This phrase can mean any of raising hell – either by causing a ruckus or kicking up a fuss – or going to great lengths to get something.

Ha fatto il diavolo a quattro quando le hanno detto che l’orario di visita era finito e non l’hanno fatta entrare.
She screamed blue murder when they told her visiting hours were over and wouldn’t let her in.

Ho fatto il diavolo a quattro per ottenere quel permesso.
I fought like hell to get that permit.

It’s unclear quite how a phrase which literally translates as something along the lines of ‘doing the devil by four’ came to have its current meaning – according to the Treccani dictionary, there are a couple of explanations.

One is that in some profane medieval art that involved religious imagery, the devil was often depicted along with the number four.

Another is that when the devil was represented on stage, he had so many different guises that four actors were required to play him in order to avoid having too long a time between costume changes.

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