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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.

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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.