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The term comes from an agent noun formed from the word terra (Italian for "land"). In fact it was historically used, after the Italian unification, to describe the landlords of the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, highlighting the fact that they profited from a type of land property, the latifundium, by which they used to own the land without ever working it; the word also stands for "person from a land [such as Southern Italy] prone to earthquakes".
Until the 1950s, terrone kept the classist meaning of "peasant", "person working the land"; at one point, even people migrating from the then rural region of Veneto to the more industrialised Lombardy had been accordingly nicknamed terroni del nord ("Northern terroni"). However, it was not until the Italian economic miracle, when a great number of Southerners migrated to the industrial centers of Northern Italy, that it began to be strictly used (often as a slur) to indicate people from Southern Italy. From terrone later derived Terronia "the land of the Terroni", and the adjective terronico "anything related to the Terroni".
The epithet often implies the occurrence of negative stereotypes for the person labelled in such wise, such as laziness, ignorance and lack of hygiene. Similarly, with particular reference to some slang, the term has taken on the meaning of an uncouth person lacking in good manners, like the words villano, burino and cafone. In addition, the term is generally associated with certain somatic, phenotypical and physical traits, such as olive skin, short stature, high cheeks and other characteristics more common in Southern Italy than in the North.
- Russo Bullaro, Grace (2010). From Terrone to Extracomunitario: Shifting Demographics and Changing Images in a Multi-cultural Globalized Society. Leicester: Troubador Publishing. ISBN 9781848761766.
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