Tag Archives: Roman dialect

Ice-T Knows About Sticazzi

26 Jan

Dear readers, if you’ve been with me for a while, then you know I hold a very special place in my heart for the Italian word “sticazzi.” It literally would translate to something like “these big dicks.” That’s kind of vulgar, I know. But then again, so is a lot of what goes on in Roman dialect. Sticazzi I like to view as a whole sort of life philosophy, taught to me by the Romans I’ve lived among for over a decade now. I dearly heart Roman dialect poet G.G. Belli, born in 1791, who expounded prolifically on the joys of this existential universal truth, one that I lovingly like to refer to as The “Who Gives a Flying F” Philosophy of Life.

But you know, universal truths are, after all, universal, aren’t they? And that’s how I ended up finding out that even Ice-T knows of the sheer genius behind the concept of sticazzi. Thank you to the incredibly talented writer Susannah Breslin and her blog for bringing this little gem to my attention.

Oh, yeah, and before you watch—I should warn you. Sticazzi is a nifty, fancy-shmancy Italian pretty-sounding way to say “fuck it.” So, you know, you’re going to hear the F bomb a wee bit if you watch this video. If that’s a problem for you, well, forewarned is forearmed. And also, might I add, stigrandissimicazzi.



Five Italian Expressions You Won’t Find in Your Book

15 Jan

Now that I’ve lived in Rome for a while, it’s sometimes hard for me to remember each individual moment that I learned a new phrase that you never find in a textbook.

For some reason this morning, I was reflecting on some of these. If you don’t learn them by being immersed in the local language, or at least learn them directly from an Italian in conversation, you most likely aren’t going to find them in your Italian 101 textbook.

Granted, if you’re only learning Italian for tourist purposes, these phrases probably won’t be of much use to you. But when I was learning Italian, for example, I was learning it for the express purpose of being able to come live here and learn the culture in general, and having known to expect a few of these before they popped out of nowhere on me, would have been helpful.

I’ve written on this in the past as well: Italian Lessons I Learned After Moving Here.

So let’s test your knowledge, if you’re ready. See if you know these!

1. Figurati!

I remember the first time that someone said “figurati!” to me instead of my textbook-taught “prego” as a response to grazie. It was like, whaaa?

The verb “figurarsi” would be literally like imagine something, I suppose, but I’ve never even really looked it up. I’ve just always understood it to mean something equivalent to the English “don’t mention it” when someone says thanks. It’s a rather informal way of saying “you’re welcome,” but that being said, I often also hear it used in the formal form, and I have often said to an elderly person, after they’ve thanked me for holding the door for them or giving up my seat on the bus, “ma si figuri signora!” like a formal way of saying “by all means!” And then there’s also “figuriamoci” which I often use when I’m trying to emphasize in speaking to someone that I don’t expect whatever I’m about to say, would ever happen. For example if I have a friend who’s always late, and I’m talking to another friend about how important it is that this friend be to a meeting with me on time, I might say something like “Figuriamoci poi se lei arriva in orario.” Like saying, “Forget about it, she’s never going to be on time (even though she should be, it’ll never happen).”

2. Capirai!

This was another really weird one for me, because if I really sat there and translated it literally, it would come out as some kind of declarative statement akin to “You’ll understand!” Well that just made no sense in any of the contexts in which I’d ever heard this phrase spoken, because it was always in this way of some kind of incredulous reaction to something. Something like, “Oh, well, that’ll be the day…” It’s really hard to pin this one down. In this online translation they say it means “big deal” but, even still for me that doesn’t fully capture it. I read through some other people trying to pin it down on this forum, and I think this person did a fairly good job of explaining it, although it’s still basically convoluted no matter which way you slice it:

More context: it means that it’s taken for granted what was said before, because the character that spoke earlier has a very strong identity and we can almost predict what his answer will be like.

3. Non c’e’ di che!

Another weird way of saying you’re welcome, kind of like “don’t mention it!”

4. Ma per carita’!

This one to me is closest to something like, “Oh please!” in the sense of an eye-rolling, God-help-us-all kind of way. Now that I think about it, you can use this one too instead of “you’re welcome,” but it would be a much more emphatic way of trying to communicate that there is absolutely no reason that person should even be thanking you. Like, “are you kidding me? I would have done that regardless! No need to say thank you!” all of that wrapped into this one phrase, which when translated literally means “for charity!” Maybe it’s like “well for heaven’s sake!” I’ve also heard “Per carita’ di Dio!” which, you know, adding in God and all, gives it that extra power.

Oh my gosh, look! I just checked out this forum and they agree with me. Good call, Shells, good call. You must really speak Italian or something! (pats self on back)

4. Ci hai azzeccato! Often in Rome spoken like this: “C’hai azzeccato!”

You’ve guessed it! No, that’s what it means. “You’ve guessed it!” Azzeccare is a colloquial way to express having figured something out, to be right on the mark.

5. C’ha ‘na capoccia….

Ha, this one is hidden away on an anonymous but very entertaining page of Roman sayings. I hear it all the time. It’s a fun one. “Capoccia” is a Roman dialect way of referring to the head. But you can’t really translate it so literally. This phrase would be like saying “he (or she) has a head” but it really depends on how it’s used. Sometimes people say “Mi ha fatto ‘na capoccia cosi'” and that would mean something like they totally annoyed you, like, made your head nearly explode from the annoyance, the “cosi'” (like this) part to just randomly refer to the way your head felt. Italians are so expressive with their hands that it makes it really hard to translate some phrases in words. (Note to self: video post on Roman hand gestures). “C’ha ‘na capoccia grossa” I’ve also heard, to mean someone is smart “they have a big head.”

Ten of My Favorite Roman Words and Expressions

14 Sep

And if you are squeamish about sexual innuendo, sexual references, references to private parts, bad words, bad taste, or using private parts as expletives and for emphasis, or just for all-around good fun? Well, let’s just say this post isn’t for you.


Let’s just say Roman culture in general probably isn’t for you. Come here on vacation. If you decide to move here, only frequent English-speaking circles. But don’t you dare stay and mingle too much with the locals, or else you’re going to end up feeling offended. And believe me, if you want to “do as the Romans do” you damn well sure better not be easily offended. We love our locker-room talk around these parts.

Oh, because PEOPLE! How the Romans love vulgarity as part of their irresistible charm!

And OH! How their swears almost always revolve around vulgar ways to say certain body parts. The fun truly never ends. I’ll try to contain myself.

I must say that as an American girl who is fluent in Italian, to get your master’s degree you must conquer Roman “dialect,” which truly in my opinion isn’t an incomprehensible dialect as much as it is a form of unique, gutterish slang and particular accent. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE ME SOME ROMANACCIO. Oh yes indeedy! Can I share with you my inner secrets to make a person think you know Roman in just 10 easy steps?

Ok. So let’s just start with the nitty gritty and get it out of the way.

I’m going to go ahead and put this out there: I am in love with the rainbow flavor variety of expressions to describe a prostitute. Oh my God: they never end. You can use them to insult a person, to talk about a U-turn (just like flipping a bitch!), or to simply describe with your own special flair the type of prostitute you’re referring to. Here goes nothing:

1) The all-time favorite classic. Mignotta (mih-NYOHT-uh). It almost sounds demure, but it’s not. I’d literally translate this to mean “whore” but Italians will inevitably try to convince you it means “bitch” in English. No. Not the way we would mean it. Trust me. It’s the other.

2) Roman prostitute. You’re really local when you can slip into conversation a phrase like “Yeah that woman’s makeup was like she was just coming off work on the Salaria” or “Oh my God she looks like she should be out on the Colombo.” The Salaria is your all-purpose go-to road when you want to make an off-hand prostitute reference. Use it and you’ll sound like you’ve lived here for ages. The ladies of the night aren’t only night owls on the Salaria. Oh, heavens no. They’re out there at 10 am if you head to the shopping mall. Cover your children’s eyes.

3) Hard-core fun. BAGASCIA (ba-GAH-shuh). Or even better, throw in vecchia, as in VECCHIA BAGASCIA. Oh, I just love an old whore. See also puttana, and one of my other personal favorites, BALDRACCA (ball-DRAH-kuh). All equally good times.

Ok, enough already. Geez!

How about cheating? You know that everyone’s doing it around here, don’t you? Ok, I won’t exaggerate. But truly, the concept of faithfulness takes on new meaning here, which is why we need specifically colorful phrases to describe when someone is cheating or getting cheated on. Because you know we all know it’s happening and we all talk about it like the weather.

4) Classic. “Mettere le corna” a.k.a. “putting the horns” on someone, that someone being the “cornuto“. I tried to research the etymology of this for you but got cross-eyed in historical references. If you feel braver than I do and can read in Italian, check this out. Otherwise, trust that some emperor guy used to steal married women, imprison their husbands, and then triumphantly have a stag’s head hung out in front of the poor dude’s house. And so that became the symbol of a guy whose wife was sleeping with another man. Or something. The hand gesture can also be used to ward off bad luck. (Not to be confused with stringy-haired rockers at an AC/DC concert, of course.) That is, if the man doesn’t say instead…

5) FAMME GRATTA’ which basically means “let me scratch” as in LET ME SCRATCH MY DAMN BALLS because holy effing crapoly man. Whatever you just said? That was like, I need to JINX to the max because dear God let’s hope something like that doesn’t happen to me and therefore not only will I SAY “let me scratch” but then I will try to discreetly proceed to actually DO SO. In public. (And you think I’m joking. Truth is stranger than fiction, my dear friends.)

6) But before I forget, get really fancy if you want, and say that a guy has a BASKET OF SNAILS ON HIS HEAD which is like, wow, a lot of horns, right? Un cesto de lumache in testa. And you’re sure to look local and super in-the-know.

Um. Ok. So we’ve covered prostitutes, and cheaters, and bad luck mixed in for good measure. And I’m only up to 6. Where to go from here? Back to the basics.

7) If you come to Rome, you must certainly perfect your most convincing rendition of the expression “AHO’!” also written by Romans as AO’ and also pronounced AO?? It’s very all-purpose. Which reminds me of a fun parody from years back of a song that was popular, which was originally about childlike wonder called “Quando i bambini fanno oh” and got turned into the Roman version “Quanno i romani fanno aho'” Lots of good expressions in this one. For advanced students of Roman dialect:

8) And how about NON ROMPE or even better NUN ME ROMPE ER CAZZO which is like really vulgar don’t break my balls, man! Actually that would be NUN ME ROMPE LE PALLE so that other one is like don’t break my dick. No more like don’t break my cock. EEK. Sorry. I promise I’m trying to be clean, but I live in Rome, and therefore:

9) CHE TE LO DICO A FARE? Otherwise known as FUGGEDDABOUTIT. Check this out. First, watch in English. Then, watch in Italian. Sheer genius.

But let me save one of the quintessential delights for last. I give you:

10) MA vàttel’a ppijà ‘n der culo! Yes, I dare you to say that five times fast! Romans love anything about taking it up the ass. I’d estimate they have, oh, somewhere around about three bajillion references to getting it there, taking it there, giving it there–good lord, the list goes on and on. But this will cover you in most situations. Add in a dashing sweep of the arm and hand if you’re so inclined. Kind of like a real insult in Roman dialect, but truly more often it’s used between friends to say something vulgarly equivalent to the meek-in-comparison English “go take a hike!” HA! We’re SOOO not as creative as Romans, people.

And just to prove that many people in this world, like myself, might have either waaay too much free time on their hands, or simply stay at home on Friday nights and try to entertain themselves like I have been doing here, I now give you your moment of Zen:

La Mandrakata

16 Jul

This post goes out to those of you who are learning Italian in Rome, or know Italian, or know Roman dialect, or any combination of these things.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, then you’ll know that my main passion is for Roman culture and Roman dialect. Truly, I might be the only American in Rome who has the “Febbre da Cavallo” theme song as their cell phone ring tone. If you even know what that means, then this post is for you.

When I first moved here and started learning Italian, everyone—and I mean EVERYONE and THEIR MAMMA—kept telling me, “For the LOVE OF GOD, though, DON’T learn Italian from the Romans! Dear God NO! It’s so… so… so… VULGAR!” And I swear to you, I didn’t get what that meant.

Did it mean they say lotsa swears?

It did. But that isn’t exactly “it” because it’s not like they swear only in Rome. Although, as an aside, truly the way that Romans creatively swear is another reason to love them. I’ve had Romans ask me lots of times, “Hey Shell, how do you say [insert Italian and/or Roman swear word] in English?” and I’ll be like, “F…” or “Sh…” or what, like the other 2 or 3 four-letter words we use? Then they ask another word, and I say THE SAME EXACT word in English. And so they repeat it as if I didn’t understand correctly. Sample dialogue: No, no, not “fottiti” or “cazzo in culo”, no, it’s different, this time we just want to know simply “vatteneafanculo” and I’m like, ok, still though, it’s pretty much the same ol’ F word for us, more or less. We don’t get so incredibly descriptive, especially when it comes to parts of the male and female anatomy, for goodness sake! I’m like, you guys are just a lot more creative than we are, when it comes to being vulgar.

But my point being… the “vulgarity” of Roman dialect doesn’t quite lie in simple swear words or talking dirty. No; it’s something more, something almost intangible, something hard to articulate. I tried to get Romans who were familiar with the US to compare it for me to some US accent.

“Is it like the Texas accent? Is it like a Southern accent? Like an accent that people use to imply idiocy?” (no offense to Southerners, of course. Think George W. Bush).

“No, that’s not really it, either,” they’d say.

Long story short, the closest I’ve ever come to a comparison is a hard NYC accent or—and more than once I’ve been told this—specifically Brooklyn. I know nothing about NYC or Brooklyn so this doesn’t mean more to me than something remotely akin to The Sopranos.

In any case, once you learn what a Roman accent sounds like, and the peculiarities that make it uniquely Roman, you can finally start to really understand the Roman sense of humor and view on life. (Which I’ve also touched on recently in this post about Roman sonnets). Which brings me to the title of this post: la mandrakata.

I’d already been living here in Rome for years and spoke pretty decent Italian by the time I started wondering what the hell the “mandrakata” really was. I mean, I’d always hear it. They’d always be like, “What a mandrakata!” and I never gave it much thought, just like I didn’t give much thought to why every Roman guy I had met said “cesso” instead of “bagno” for bathroom, and then I came to find out it meant “shitter” after I asked my poor MIL the first time I met her “Excuse me ma’am but where’s your shitter located?” (My friends have heard this one a million times, but it’s a classic.) So the elusive mandrakata would always be nominated when it came to something that was … how can I put this… some context in which something was super cool and kind of a rip off, like when you got away with something or pulled a really cool trick on someone. It’s hard to explain but that’s about as good as I can do.

So if you, too, like me, are a student of Roman culture and dialect and ever wondered where the hell this phrase came from, I’m here to enlighten you. It comes from the movie “Febbre da Cavallo,” which, in and of itself is a study in Roman culture. There are many other movies we could go on about—Alberto Sordi, Carlo Verdone—but today I want to go here: Gigi Proietti. I LOVE THIS MOVIE. I can’t explain to you why, anymore than I can explain to you why I love Roman culture in general.

So here, in all its You Tube glory, is one classic example of the mandrakata. Gigi Proietti, the main character, is called Mandrake (mahn-DRAH-kay), and thus, he gives birth to the so-called “Mandrake maneuver” or the mandrakata, which is basically some kind of scam to either avoid paying for something because you have no money from losing it all on bets, or a scam to get more money for betting on horses, or just a way to pull a practical joke on someone you can’t stand, like the butcher in this clip, who they call Manzotin which is like the Italian version of Spam.

I love this scene. Few movies can make me smile even when I’ve had the shittiest of days, but honestly this scene never fails to make me laugh. Either that makes me completely abnormal, or almost Roman at heart—or perhaps a mixture of both.

The Number 23

30 Jun

A simple bus in Trastevere, after the other night’s soccer match upset against Germany, transforms into The Merkelizer.

Gotta love those Romans. Putting LED bus sign technology to good use.

He who submitted this photo to me (thanks!) tells me that “23” in the numerology of Italian lotto stands for “bucio di culo” ovvero “bbùcio de culo” which, in Roman dialect, is basically like saying you had a stroke of good luck.

If you speak Italian you can have a wealth of etymology, and I quote:

In alcuni dialetti italiani la parola “culo”, oltre ad indicare la regione del fondoschiena, ha il significato di “fortuna, buona sorte”; quindi l’espressione ha il senso di “Che gran fortuna!”. Il dialetto romano, però, spesso enfatizza l’espressione ampliandola a: “Che bbùcio di culo!” (dove “bùcio” corrisponde all’italiano “buco”).
A volte è usato con una valenza negativa: nel giocare a carte o in qualsiasi attività competitiva, gli avversari commenterebbero la vittoria: “Macché bravura, quello è bbùcio de culo!”.
Diversamente da altre espressioni, questa viene anche usata come un comune verbo, “Avere culo”, e debitamente coniugata.
Qualche persona pudica ne usa la forma più “puritana”, “Che bbùcio!”, ma oltre ad essere meno efficace, ciò sposta l’attenzione proprio sul… dettaglio anatomico, risultando magari anche più oscena.

However, here I must humbly note that my guru of etymology (no, I don’t even know what etymology means, but doesn’t it make me sound smart? and if you can grasp the irony of my previous sentence, then you must be my soulmate) is this man. Ask him if he knows the definition of tabarro.

By the way God bless the genius who wrote up this page on expressions in Roman dialect. So fun.

And, if you really want to get into the science of the number 23—and, let’s be honest here, who doesn’t?—then by all means, be my guest.

For example I bet you didn’t know that Julius Caesar was assassinated with 23 stab wounds, did you?

You did?


Well, what about the birthday paradox?

Ah, gotcha there, eh?

Take 23 people in a room, right? At that point, the probability that 2 of them were born on the same day rises to more than 50%.

I know. I’m full of interesting trivia. That’s what happens when it’s like 90 degrees still at 10 pm and you’re at home trying not to melt into a puddle on the floor.

The “Who Gives a Flying F” Philosophy of Life

12 Jun


Not like I’m an expert on Roman culture, mind you. But I’d like to think that I have a notch or two on my belt. Which is why I feel like I can proudly declare that my love for GG Belli knows no bounds, and not only because he was blessed with a name as fabulous as Giuseppe Gioachino. I’m thinking I should have totally named my son this. But I digress.

Point being, I always tell people that one of the reasons I love Rome is because there are two philosophies I’ve learned about life, while living in Rome, from the mouths of Romans themselves, that I honestly believe, when used separately or even together, can pretty much cover every situation you might encounter.

Holy crap man. That was a lot of commas.

Come close, yes, right here. I’ll whisper them in your ear.

1) Piano piano – Little by little.

I am obsessed with this blessed life philosophy. So much so that I managed to turn an entire blog post on it, over at the place where I punch my time card.

2) My personal favorite: Sticazzi. Or even better, “Stigrancazzi,” or even better, just plain and simple “‘Stigranca,” which, when loosely translated, is something along the lines of who gives a flying fuck. If you’ll kindly pardon my French. And yes, I really do think it would be a flying fuck, not a normal one. That kind of encompasses the spirit for me. Stigrancazzi, folks! Spread those wings and just fuck it all!

Oops, now would you look? Here I’ve gone and said swears and am losing all my readership.

But, for those few brave souls, oh ye of hardened heart, who are still here, I am coming to a logical connection. Just be patient.

These being cultural phenomena, they are clearly not a recent development. While I cannot speak to ancient Rome (that’s what my boss/crazy looking machete-wielder does) I can speak a least a bit to Roman dialect and Roman sonnets. They are divinely wise, and there is nothing more fun for me than getting a true “romano de’ Roma” to recite one for me out loud.

Ok, there are lots of things that are more fun. But this is still fun. Trust me.

Until you can read Roman dialect, you can’t truly and fully appreciate the Roman culture. Just IMHO. But I can say that knowing how to read and understand Roman dialect, which isn’t so much of a dialect as it is a way of pronouncing words and a style of speech, and then being able to read these sonnets in their original verse, gives me a real insight into why modern-day Romans think and act the way they do. And why I love them so, in spite of it all, and because of it all.

So, that being said, here’s your daily dose of Belli, explaining the wisdom of flying fucks from as far back as 1831. May God rest his blessed sticazzaro soul.

Accusì va er monno

Quanto sei bbono a stattene a ppijjà
Perché er monno vò ccurre pe l’ingiù:
Che tte ne frega a tté? llassel’annà:
Tanto che speri? aritirallo sù?

Che tte preme la ggente che vvierà,
Quanno a bbon conto sei crepato tu?
Oh ttira, fijjo mio, tira a ccampà,
E a ste cazzate nun penzacce ppiù.

Ma ppiù de Gges cristo che ssudò
‘Na camiscia de sangue pe vvedé
De sarvà ttutti; eppoi che ne cacciò?

Pe cchi vvò vvive l’anni de Novè
Ciò un zegreto sicuro, e tte lo do:
Lo ssciroppetto der dottor Me ne…

—Roma, 14 novembre 1831

That’s The Way The World Goes

(*clears throat* Roughly translated by yours truly. So don’t write me shitty comments about how I translated it wrong. This is the way I interpreted it.)

You’re really great, sitting there taking it and getting pissed
Because the world is going down the tubes:
What the hell do you care? Let it go:
What are you hoping for? To pick it back up?

Why should you care about the people who will come after you,
When, after all, you’ll be dead?
Come on, my son, just keep trying to make a living,
And as for all this other bullshit – forget about it.

Who better than Jesus Christ knows, who sweated
A whole huge mess of blood just to try
To save everyone; but then what the hell did he get out of it?

To anyone who wants to live to be as old as Noah
I’ve got a sure secret, and I’ll give it to you:
Take the syrup of Dr. I Don’t Give a …

xoxo Gioachino, love you!