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Italian word of the day: 'Lampo'

The Local Italy
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Italian word of the day: 'Lampo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

You'll pick up this word in a flash.


In its most straightforward use, the Italian word lampo means lightning or a bright flash of light; tuoni e lampi (also tuoni e fulmini) are thunder and lightning in Italian.

Ha paura di tuoni e lampi.
She's afraid of thunder and lightning.

Ho visto un lampo di luce nell'oscurità.
I saw a flash of light in the darkness.

As you might have guessed, the English word "lamp" is derived from the same Latin root - lampas - as lampo.

But besides its associations with light, lampo can also refer to something happening very quickly; "in a flash", as we might say in English.

È successo tutto in un lampo.
It all happened in a flash.

And you can use the phrase lampo di genio as anglophones would a "flash of inspiration" or "stroke of genius".

Vieni subito, ho avuto un lampo di genio!
Come right away, I've had a stroke of genius!

Lampo is also sometimes added onto another noun to describe something happening quickly: you might hear a surprise police or military raid described as an operazione lampo, while a lightning war or Blitzkrieg is a guerra lampo.


Separately, a lampo can also be a zip or zipper on an item of clothing.

This makes sense etymologically if you think about how much faster it is to zip up a jacket than to button it; 'zip/zipper' is also thought to be an agent noun of the verb 'zip', to move rapidly.

If you're referring to a lampo as a zipper, it becomes a feminine rather than masculine noun, and the ending doesn't change even if it's in the plural form.

Puoi aiutarmi con questa lampo?
Can you help me with this zipper?

Non riesco mai a chiudere le lampo.
I never manage to do up zips.

That's because lampo when used in this way is actually a shorthand for cerniera lampo, 'lightning fastener'.

Even when we dispense with the feminine cerniera, it's still understood that it's hiding there in the background, so we act as though it's changed to the plural form and lampo as the noun modifier remains unaltered.

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