Italian profanity ("bestemmie" when referred to religious topics, "parolacce" when not) refers to a set of words considered blasphemous or inflammatory in the Italian language.
The Italian language is considered a language with a large set of inflammatory terms and phrases, almost all of which originate from the several dialects and languages of Italy, such as the Tuscan dialect, which had a very strong influence in modern standard Italian, which is widely known to be based on Florentine language. Several of these words are cognates to other Romance languages, such as Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian and French. Profanities differ from region to region, but a number of them are diffuse enough to be more closely associated to the Italian language and featured in all the more popular Italian dictionaries.
List of profanities in the Italian language
- baldracca (pl. baldracche) [balˈdrakka]: whore.
- bocchino (pl. bocchini) [bok'kino]: blowjob.
- cazzo (pl. cazzi) [ˈkattso]: literally, vulgar version of penis, can be used as an exclamation or for emphasis; there are countless expressions using this word in a variety of contexts, as detailed in the entries below.
- coglione (pl. coglioni) [koʎˈʎoːne]: literally an offensive version of testicle; where referred to a person, it usually means idiot, burk, twit, fool. In addition, it can be used on several phrases such as avere i coglioni (literally, to have the balls, that is, to be very courageous), avere i coglioni girati (literally, to have turned testicles) which means to be angry/in a bad mood, or essere un coglione (to be a fool). Note that when said to a close friend (ma quanto sei coglione) the word is not really offensive. Sometimes Coglione was also featured in worldwide news when used by ex Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi referring to those who would not vote for him during the 2006 Italian election campaign. It derives from Latin coleo, pl. coleones, and is thus cognate to the Spanish cojones and Portuguese "colhões"
- cornuto (pl. cornuti) [korˈnuːto]: cuckold, literally "horned" – referring to a person whose spouse is cheating on him. Occasionally it might be coupled with the corna when saying that. In southern Italy it is considered a rough insult.
- culo (pl. culi) [ˈkuːlo]: rough name for buttocks, comparable to the English word ass. It can also mean luck. The popular expression "Avere una faccia da culo" ("To have an ass-like face") indicates a cheeky, brazen-faced person, and sometimes has a positive connotation. In some regions, "Stare sul/in culo" is used as a variant of "Stare sul cazzo", both indicating dislike for someone else. It derives from earlier Greek colos (κώλος) and later Latin culus. It may also translate as faggot, see entries below.
- ditalino (pl. ditalini): (lit.: 'small thimble') fingering, female masturbation.
- figa (pl. fighe) [ˈfiːɡa]: It means pussy. It also mean sexy, hot and attractive if refers to a woman. Contrary to most beliefs Figa is not an offensive term. If referred to a guy (figo) it means someone really cool, someone "who always knows how to get pussy". That why the name of the Italian chain restaurants "Figo pasta": it means "the cool guy who makes pasta". Figo may also mean someone really skilled in doing something. The term Strafiga referred to a woman means "smoking hot".
- finocchio (pl. finocchi) [fiˈnɔkkjo]: (lit.: 'fennel') a male homosexual; faggot; poof. A suggestive and very popular hypothesis suggests it may derive from the age of the Holy Inquisition in the Papal State, when fennel seeds would be thrown on homosexuals executed by burning at the stake — in order to mitigate the stench of burned flesh. There is no proof that this is the case, however.
- frocio (pl. froci) [ˈfrɔːtʃo]: roughly equivalent to the American faggot, this term originated in Rome but is now widely used nationwide. Less-used synonyms include ricchione (mainly Southern Italy, especially in the Naples area), culattone or culo (mainly in Northern Italy), busone (common in Emilia-Romagna and also a rough synonym for lucky) and finocchio (see). The usage of this word in Italian may by some people be considered homophobic and politically incorrect.
- gnocca (pl. gnocche) [ˈɲɔkka]: typical Bolognese version of figa; is mostly conjugated in its feminine form although sometimes can be used on the masculine form. Although very vulgar, it is not offensive, but appreciative. Indeed, it is diffuse nationwide to refer to an attractive woman.
- mannaggia [manˈnaddʒa]: a generic expression of frustration, mostly used in Southern Italy; often translated as damn, but has no direct translation. Actually, it comes from the contraction of a former utterance, mal ne aggia, which means in ancient Italian "may he/she get mischief out of it". Used also in English books, such as Mario Puzo's The Fortunate Pilgrim.
- merda (pl. merde) [ˈmɛrda]: roughly the same as English word shit.
- mignotta (pl. mignotte) [miɲˈɲɔtta]: same meaning of "puttana"; according to some sources it may be the contraction of the Latin matris ignotae (of unknown mother), where the note filius m. ignotae (son of unknown mother) appeared on the registries referred to abandoned children; other sources derive it from the French mignoter (to caress) or mignon/mignonne.
- minchia (pl. minchie) [ˈmiŋkja]: the same meaning as cazzo but notably a feminine name, it originates from Sicilian language; nowadays it is common anywhere in Italy, where it is also used as exclamation of surprise, or even appreciation. It is used in the expression "testa di minchia" (see testa di cazzo). It is also featured in a song by American musician (of Sicilian descent) Frank Zappa, named Tengo na minchia tanta (I've got a dick this big). It derives from Latin mentula.
- mona (pl. mone): dialectic form of cunt or pussy, commonly used in North Eastern Italy, more specifically in Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
- alla pecorina: (lit.: 'sheep style') doggy-style
- puttana (pl. puttane) [putˈtaːna]: whore, prostitute.
- pompinaro (f. pompinara, pl. pompinari/pompinare): cock-sucking, person prone to perform oral sexual activities. More often used towards women.
- ricchione (pl. ricchioni) [rikˈkjoːne]: faggot.
- sborra (or sburro): cum 
- scopare [skoˈpaːre]: to fuck (literally: to sweep).
- scoreggia (pl. scoregge) [skorˈreddʒa]: fart.
- sega (pl. seghe) [sæga]: wank, handjob. Literally the term could be translated as saw.
- spagnola: (lit.: 'Spanish [girl]') titty-fuck
- sfiga, literally "without pussy", has the meaning of bad luck. A tipical exclamation when something goes wrong in Italy is "che sfiga!" (What a bad luck!)
- sfigato (pl. sfigati) literally means "without figa", in English without pussy. It can be translated as "loser", "uncool" person.
- stronzo (pl. stronzi) [ˈstrontso]: literally turd, but also arsehole or asshole, bitch, sod. It is used as adjective to indicate that somebody is really a bad, cruel, man/woman. It is derived from ancient German strunz (shit).
- troia (pl. troie) [ˈtrɔːja]: bitch, slut, slovenly woman or whore.
- vaffanculo [vaffaŋˈkuːlo]: "fuck you!", "fuck off!", "bugger off!". It's a contraction of "va' a fare in culo" (literally "go do (it) in the ass"). "Vattela a pijà 'n der culo" is the Romanesco form for vaffanculo, while in Northern Italy is also used "Vai a cagare" (lit. "go to shit"), "Vai a dar via il culo" (lit. "go sell your arse") or "Fottiti" (go fuck yourself). Famously used by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in reference to his critics. In the Neapolitan language it is pronounced "va fangool"; and at times the "va" is omitted, as demonstrated in the film Grease (at the end of the "Sandra Dee" skit, performed by Stockard Channing).
- zoccola (pl. zoccole) [ˈtsɔkkola]: slut, whore; bitch.
Profanity in literature
Italian writers have often used profanity for the spice it adds to their pages. This is an example from a seventeenth century collection of tales, the Pentamerone, by the Neapolitan Giambattista Basile:
- Ah, zoccaro, frasca, merduso, piscialetto, sauteriello de zimmaro, pettola a culo, chiappo de 'mpiso, mulo canzirro! ente, ca pure le pulece hanno la tosse! va', che te venga cionchia, che mammata ne senta la mala nuova, che non ce vide lo primmo de maggio! Va', che te sia data lanzata catalana o che te sia dato stoccata co na funa, che non se perda lo sango, o che te vangano mille malanne, co l'avanzo e priesa e vento alla vela, che se ne perda la semmenta, guzzo, guitto, figlio de 'ngabellata, mariuolo!
This tirade could be translated like this:
- Ah, good for nothing, feather, full of shit, bedpisser, jack of the harpsichord, shirt on the arse, loop of the hanged, hard-headed mule! Look, now also lice cough loudly! Go, that palsy get you, that your mom get the bad news, that you cannot see the first of May. Go, that a Catalan spear pass through you, that a rope be tied around your neck, so that your blood won't be lost, that one thousand illnesses, and someone more, befall you, coming in full wind; that your name be lost, brigand, penniless, son of a whore, thief.
Francis Ford Coppola had some characters in The Godfather use untranslated profanity. For instance, when Sonny Corleone found out that Paulie Gatto had sold out his father to the Barzinis, he called Gatto "that stronz'". Also, when Connie Corleone learned Carlo Rizzi was cheating on her, Carlo snapped, "Hey, vaffancul', eh?", Connie yelled back, "I'll vaffancul' you!".
Profanities in the original meaning of blasphemous profanity are part of the ancient tradition of the comic cults, which laughed and scoffed at the deity. In Europe in the Middle Ages the most improper and sinful "oaths" were those invoking the body of the Lord and its various parts, as the expression of the dialect of Bergamo Pota de Cristo! ("Christ's cunt"), and these were precisely the oaths most frequently used.
Nowadays, the most common kind of blasphemous profanity involves the name of God, Christ or the Virgin Mary combined with an insult, the most used being porco ('pig') as in Porco Dio ('God is a pig') or bestia ('beast') as in Dio bestia ('God is a beast') or porca Madonna ('the Virgin Mary is a pig').
Common blasphemous profanity in Italian are: porco Dio, Dio cane (lit. God is a dog), Dio merda, Dio bestia, Madonna puttana, porco il Cristo, Dio stronzo, etc.
In some areas of Italy, such as Liguria, Umbria, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Emilia-Romagna, Marche, Alto-Lazio, Sardinia and Tuscany, blasphemy is more common, but not because of a strong anti-Catholic feeling.
In the Italian language profanities belonging to this category are called bestemmie (singular: bestemmia), in which God, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, the Saints or the Roman Catholic Church are insulted. This category is so strong it is usually frowned upon even by people who would make casual or even regular use of the profanities above.
Bestemmiare (swearing) is a misdemeanor in Italian law, but the law is seldom enforced. However, it is still considered a strong social taboo at least on television. For example, anyone caught uttering bestemmie in the Italian Big Brother (Grande Fratello) "must be immediately expelled", because they offend "millions of believers". Uttering bestemmie is widely seen as a vice, and is often listed together with smoking, drinking and substance abuse.
Until 1999, uttering blasphemies in public was considered a criminal misdemeanor in Italy (although enforcement was all but nonexistent), while nowadays it has been downgraded to an administrative misdemeanor. Some local administrations still ban the practice. For example, the Comune of Brignano Gera d'Adda, after the curate complained about the frequency of blasphemous profanity in the parish recreation centre, banned the practice in the civic centre and in all places of retail business, be it public or private. As of July 2011, the laws in force in Italy identifies as a bestemmia only the profanities related directly to God. Any insult to Mary or the various saints don't actually represent a "bestemmia" or any violation of existing laws and rules.
- Porco zio, using zio instead of Dio, where zio is Italian for uncle; or "orco Dio", where "porco" is replaced by "orco" (orc), even though this second one results in a profanity as well. Other similar minced oaths can be created also replacing "Dio" with a series of existent or meaningless terms like disi, Diaz, due, disco, dinci, Dionigi, Diomede, Diavolo, etc.
- Maremma maiala, using maremma instead of Madonna, where Maremma is a seaside zone of Tuscany. Curiously, the former is actually widely used in Tuscan dialect, whereas the latter is seldom used (its origins are attribuite to the swamps of the maremma that used to carry lots of plague to the tuscany popolation). An expression somewhat similar is Maremma bucaiola (bucaiola means sodomite).
- Porca madosca, using madosca instead of Madonna, where madosca means nothing and it sounds like a macaronic Russian version of "Madonna".
- "Dio boria", that is used instead of "Dio boia". "Boria" means "arrogance", "boia" means executioner.
Other minced oaths can be created on the fly when people begin to utter one of the above blasphemies but then choose to "correct" them in real time. The principal example is somebody beginning to say Dio cane (where cane means "dog") and choosing to say instead Dio cantante (God (is a) singer) or Dio cantautore (God (is a) songwriter). Also it is very common to say Dio caro (typically used in Alto-Lazio and Umbria), meaning "dear God" or Dio bono (with "bono" being a contraction of "buono", that means good) or Dio bonino (same meaning, typically used in Tuscany and Emilia Romagna) or Dio Bonazzo (same meaning used in Castelfranco Veneto) instead of Dio Boia (where boia means executioner). A peculiar minced oath created on the fly, especially popular among Italian teenagers, has the form of a rhyme and read as follows: Dio can...taci il Vangelo, Dio por...taci la pace! and it means "God, sing to us the Gospel, God bring us peace!".
Cristo! or Cristo santo!, used to express rage and/or disappointment (similar to "Oh my God" or "Holy Christ"), is usually not considered a bestemmia, though it may be assumed to violate the second commandment of not making "wrongful use of the name of the Lord Thy God".
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- See the corresponding French porter des cornes; deriving from the mating habits of stags, who forfeit their mates when they are defeated by another male.
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- Gianbattista Basile, (1634) Lo cunto de li cunti also known as The Pentameron. The title can be translated as The Tale of Tales
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- Bakhtin 1941, chap.2 "The Language of the Marketplace in Rabelais", p. 188-194.
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- Angelone, Pietro (2014). Di(a)lettando. Piccolo glossario etimologico viterbese con racconti di vita paesana. Edizioni Sette Città. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
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Bibliography and sources
- Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World . Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
- Tartamella, Vito "Parolacce. Perché le diciamo, che cosa significano, quali effetti hanno". BUR, 2006
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