Italian profanity

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Italian profanity ("bestemmie" when referred to religious topics) refers to a set of words considered blasphemous or inflammatory in the Italian language.

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.[1] Several of these words are cognates to other Romance languages, such as Portuguese, Spanish and French. Profanities differ from region to region, however a number of them are diffuse enough to be more closely associated to Italian language and featured in all the more popular Italian dictionaries.


List of profanities in Italian language

Generally speaking, the following words provide a sufficient representation of Italian profanities used universally in the whole country:

  • balle/palle: balls; see also coglione;
  • bastardo: bastard;
  • cacare/cagare: verbal form of the same context of merda, meaning to shit, or to "take a dump", etc. It derives from Latin cacare, which is still widely used, especially in Central and Southern Italy. It is the equivalent of the Spanish cagar. The exclamation vai a cagare (go to take a dump) is used as the English "fuck off". The unfortunate lover will say: "non mi caga", i. e. "she does not give a damn about me".
  • cazzo (pl. cazzi): is the equivalent of dick or cock, also used as an interjection, "Cazzo!", meaning "[Oh,] Fuck!". When used in compound expression, cazzo almost always indicates a negative meaning; for instance:
    • cazzata, bullshit or a stupid action;
    • cazzaro/cazzone, a liar by habit;
    • testa di cazzo, dickhead, means a nasty person.
    • a cazzo di cane or alla cazzo di cane, abbreviated as alla cazzo: doing things in a very bad/messed up way (lit. "the dog's dick way").
    • cazzuto, on the other hand, is used as a vulgar substitute for "tough" or "cool".
    • incazzato, enraged
    • sono cazzi, it's tough, it is a difficult/painful situation
    • sono cazzi amari, it's very tough, it is a very difficult/painful situation, also "a pain in the ass'.
    • fatti i cazzi tuoi, an expression to denote "mind your own business" (lit. "mind your own dicks").
    • non me ne importa/frega un cazzo, is a rough way to say "I don't care", "I don't give a damn".
    • mi sta sul cazzo, literally "He/She stands on my dick", is a rough expression meaning "I can't stand him/her", referring to someone the speaker considers an unpleasant person. In spite of its literal meaning, it's used by both male and female Italians.
The expression Col cazzo is used to violently contradict what was being discussed, like "my arse" in English ("Col cazzo che vincerete la partita!" = "You'll win the match, my arse!"). Col cazzo is also used as an interjection ("Vieni a casa mia?", "Col cazzo!" = "Are you coming at my place?", "I'm fucked if I do!/Forget it!"). Sto cazzo (literally meaning "This dick") has essentially the same meaning as col cazzo, but it's only used as an interjection. The same expression at plural, Sti cazzi, is used to express admiration and/or surprise as in, "Ho vinto alla lotteria!" - "Sti cazzi!" (- I won the lottery! - Wow!). The same expression, in other regions is used to show lack of interest in something, like "I don't give a fuck" in English ("Ho vinto alla lotteria!" - "Sti cazzi!" = "- I won the lottery! - I give a fuck!"). The expression Grazie al cazzo (lit. Thanks to the dick) is used to address a trivial statement, as in " - Parla inglese molto bene. - Grazie al cazzo, sua madre è inglese!" ("He speaks very good English. - Not surprising, his mother's English!").
Also used to reinforce a question ("Che cazzo è?" = "What the fuck is it?" or "Chi cazzo sei?" = "Who the fuck are you?") and even as an interrogative pronoun in its own right ("[Che] cazzo vuoi?" = "What the fuck do you want?", or "[Che] cazzo ti frega?" = "Why the fuck do you care?"). Using "cazzo" in this sense signals anger or aggressiveness.
  • coglione (pl. coglioni): 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). Sometimes Coglione was also featured in worldwide news when used by Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi referring to those who would not vote for him during the 2006 Italian election campaign.[2] It derives from Latin culio, pl. culiones, and is thus cognate to the Spanish cojones;
  • cornuto:[3] cuckold - 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:[4] rough name for buttocks or anus, comparable to the English word arse. It can also mean luck and faggot. The popular expression "Avere una faccia da culo" ("To have an arse-like face") indicates a cheeky, brazen-faced person, and often has a positive connotation. In some regions, "Stare sul culo" is used as a variant of "Stare sul cazzo", both indicating dislike for someone else. It derives from Latin culus.
  • figa/fica: (Northern/Southern) is the rough name for vagina, equivalent to pussy or cherry. However, it can also roughly mean sexually attractive woman. Vagina is also used, but, as in English, it is not outrageous. Figa is unique in that it has generally positive meaning (albeit vulgar), can be used as an adjective and even conjugated in masculine form: as an adjective, it is the most common translation for "cool"; as a masculine noun, figo, it indicates a "cool guy". In Lombardy, it is also used as a common interjection with no particularly rough meaning.
  • finocchio: (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.[5]
  • fottere: equivalent to the English verb to fuck (see also "scopare"). From Latin futuere; can be used also as "fraud" or "don't take care" (me ne fotto di te - "I don't care about you); said about an object it has the same meaning of the verb to steal (gli hanno fottuto la macchina - "they stole his car"); being fooled (ti ha fottuto - he fooled you).
  • fregare: equivalent as above, but milder. It's almost not a profanity anymore and literally means to rob.
  • frocio: roughly equivalent to the English 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);
  • gnocca (pl. gnocche):[6] typical Bolognese version of figa; is mostly conjugated in its feminine form although sometimes can be used on the masculine form. It is diffuse nationwide to refer to an attractive woman;
  • inculare, which literally means "to penetrate somebody's ass" can also be used figuratively meaning respectively "to deceive" and "fraud"; the related term inculata or inculone mean scam or a bad deal.
  • mannaggia: 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;[7]
  • merda (pl. merde) : is equivalent to shit. It can be used in some extent as an interjection, as happens with cazzo;
  • mignotta: same meaning of "puttana"; according to some sources[8] it may be the contraction of the Latin matris ignotae (unknown mother), where the note filius m. ignotae (son of unknown mother) appeared on the registries referred to abandoned children; other sources [9]derive it from the French mignoter (to caress) or mignon/mignonne.
  • minchia: the same meaning as cazzo but notably a feminine name, it originates from Sicilian language;[10] nowadays it is common anywhere in Italy, where t 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;
  • pezzo di merda: literally "piece of shit", "sei un pezzo di merda!" = "you are a piece of shit!" it is an insult broadly used all across the country;
  • pompino: blow job (literally a "little pump"); also bocchino is used;
    • pompinara: a girl who is used/abused as a giver of oral sex (a "little pumper");
  • puttana: from Vulgar Latin putana, is roughly equivalent to the English bitch, or whore. For instance, "Figlio di puttana" = "Son of a bitch". Equivalent forms are troia (lit. female of the pig), zoccola (lit. female of the rat) and mignotta (of unknown mother), the latter mainly used in Rome. Many local equivalents such as baldracca and battona are also used. Derived terms:
    • figlio di puttana: "son of a bitch";
    • puttanata: idiocy.
    • porca puttana/puttana troia: Interjection roughly equivalent to "For fuck's sake" in English, used to express frustration
  • sborra: is equivalent to the English "cum", meaning sperm, as in english, the verb "to cum" can be traslated as "Venire" that means "To Come" Either;
  • scopare: literally to sweep, but used also with the meaning of to fuck. The most used term for to fuck and it is vulgar. The way to motion this is by motioning a honk with the hand.
  • sega (pl. seghe): (literally "saw"); used to refer to male masturbation or a handjob; it is used also to indicate a worthless person (Sei una sega - You are a good-for-nothing), sometimes strengthened as mezza sega. There are plenty of local synonyms, like pippa or pugnetta. Derived terms:
    • (non) fare una sega, literally to (not) masturbate someone but used for "to do nothing" (the negation "non" can be omitted)
    • farsi una sega reflexive form of the above, to masturbate
    • segaiolo which is used as a derogatory term to indicate someone who frequently masturbates.
    • "mi fa 'na sega" (used in Tuscany) means "who cares?" in the same are So 'na sega, meaning "I don't know".
  • stronzo (pl. stronzi): asshole, bastard. Literally it means "turd", "piece of shit"; The feminine stronza is best translated as "bitch".
  • troia: see "puttana"; literally, the "troia" is the female of the pig, like the French "truie".
  • vaffanculo: "fuck you!", "fuck off!", "bugger off!". It's a contraction of "vai a fare in culo" (literally "go to 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"). Famously used by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in reference to his critics. [1] [2] Frequently misspelled and/or mispronounced "va fangool"; sometimes the "va" is omitted, as demonstrated in the film Grease (at the end of the "Sandra Dee" skit, performed by Stockard Channing).
  • zoccola: see "puttana"; the roman whore wore platform shoes which were known as "socci", Italian "zoccoli".

Regional profanities

  • belìn: genoese for "dick"; it is widely used as a vulgar intensifier.
  • ciolla (pl. ciolle): as cazzo, sicilian and calabrese;
  • fregna: see "figa/fica", it is used in Lazio
  • mona: used mainly in Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino. Literaly "figa" (including derivative meanings like "attractive woman"), but also used as the British "twat", in which case it can be applied to people of either gender;
  • mortacci tua ([morˈtattʃi ˈtuːa]): used mainly in Rome, it is an insult to somebody's dead familiar members, and is the shortening of "L'anima de li mortacci tua" (lit. The soul of your bad dead relatives). In Romanesco it's also used as an exclamation ("Ho vinto alla lotteria! - Mortacci tua!" = "I won the lottery! - Wow, you're so lucky!"). It is the cognate of Neapolitan "L'anema de chi t'è muorto" (lit. The soul of your dead [relatives]) even if it has a worse insulting meaning in Naples;
  • pirla, pistola: twit; they are both mainly used in Lombardy, the latter literally meaning "gun" (but it's a metaphor for "cock", hence the derogatory meaning); both these terms mean a stupid person
  • piciu, term used in Piedmont, with a similar meaning to pirla.
  • pucchiacca:see "figa/fica", it is used in Campania and Calabria
  • sorca/sticchio regional variants of ""figa/fica used respectively in Lazio and Campania/Sicily. Sticchio is a masculine noun.
  • soccia/suca: literally suck (my dick/cock); mainly used in Emilia/Sicily.
  • The expression Per l'anima del cazzo (lit. For the dick's soul ) widely used in Bologna refers to something which ends up to be useless, like in " - Se questo articolo non lo legge nessuno e' stato fatto per l'anima del cazzo" ("If nobody reads this article, it ends up being useless")

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,[11] 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, piss-in-your-bed, 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, poor, son of a whore, thief."

Blasphemous profanity

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.[12] In the Middle Ages Europe the most improper and sinful "oaths" where those invoking the body of the Lord and its various parts, as the Italian Pote de Christo! ("Christ's cunt"), and these were precisely the oaths most frequently used.[13]

In some areas of Italy, such as Umbria, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Emilia-Romagna, Marche and Tuscany, blasphemy is somewhat more common.


In 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 is still considered a strong social taboo. For example, anyone caught uttering bestemmie in the Italian Big Brother (Grande Fratello) "must be immediately expelled", because they offend "millions of believers".[14] Uttering bestemmie is widely seen as a vice, and is often listed together with smoking, drinking and substance abuse.[citation needed]

Legal status

Until 1999, uttering this class of profanities in public was considered a misdemeanor in Italy (although enforcement was all but nonexistent). 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 prophanity in the parish recreation centre, banned the practice in the civic centre and in all places of retail business, be it public or private.[15] 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.[16]


By far the most common bestemmie used to insult God (Dio) are "Dio porco", "Porco dio" and "Dio cane".

  • Porco Dio:[17] Literally "God (is a) pig/filthy"; there is no meaning-equivalent in English. An expression somewhat similar, just for the frequency of its use, is goddammit.
  • Dio porco/Dio maiale: God (is a) pig, as above.
  • 'Orco dio: In some parts of Italy, most notably the North, regional intonations tend to drop, or place very little emphasis on the first syllable of a word. In this case, this is a contraction of "porco dio", famously uttered by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as part of a controversial joke.[18]
  • Dio cane: God (is a) dog.
  • Dio maledetto: God (is) damned.
  • Dio boia: God (is an) executioner.
  • Dio bestia: God (is a) beast.
  • Dio ladro: God (is) thief.
  • Dio merda: God (is) shit.
  • Dio schifoso: God (is) filthy.
  • Dio letamaio, in Veneto Dio luamaro: God (is a) dunghill.
  • Puttana la Madonna/Madonna puttana: Virgin Mary (is a) whore.
  • Vacca Madonna: Virgin Mary (is a) cow; equivalent to Virgin Mary is a bitch.
  • Porca Madonna : Virgin Mary (is a) dirty pig / bloody Virgin Mary.
  • Mannaggia Cristo: bloody Jesus Christ.
  • Puttana Eva: Eve (is a) whore. Much milder than any of the above, arguably not a bestemmia.

It is possible to see sharp geographical differences in the use frequency of these profanities. Dio boia is mainly used in Tuscany and Veneto, while "Dio can" ( phonetically: d̪ìɔ kàŋ, typical dialect form for Dio cane) is peculiar of Veneto. Dio lupo (God (is a) wolf), along with other variations involving animals, is very common in Umbria. Another very important thing to know is that blasphemies are not considered everywhere in the same way, shouting "Porco dio" within the roads of Rome, Florence or Venice is not particularly serious as for citizens of these areas is very common to hear or to say a profanity involving God, while saying the same word in Sicily is considered very offensive and will not be taken easily.

Sometimes people may try to ensue hilarity by using rhyming or creativity in their profanity, as in Porco Dio, porca Madonna e tutti gli angeli in colonna, literally insulting "God, the Holy Mother and all the angels in line".

Minced oaths

These profanities are also commonly altered to minced oaths with very slight changes in order not to appear blasphemies. For instance:

  • Porco zio, using zio instead of Dio, where zio is Italian for uncle. Other similar minced oaths can be created also replacing "Dio" with a series of existent or meaningless terms like disi, diaz, due, disco, dinci ecc.
  • Maremma maiala, using maremma instead of Madonna, where Maremma is a seaside zone of Tuscany. Curiously, the former is actually widely used in Tuscanian dialect, whereas the latter is seldom used. An expression somewhat similar is Maremma bucaiola (bucaiola means penetrated in the ass).
  • Porca madoska, using madoska instead of Madonna, where madoska means nothing and it sounds like a Russian version of "Madonna".
  • Cazzo di Budda! (Buddha's cock), is not considered blasphemous in Italy, and it is an alternative expression for the interjection "Cazzo!".
  • Bio parco, means literally biological park and it's used instead of Dio porco. It's not common as the above but it's catching up.

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 can (where can means dog in many northern Italian dialects) 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 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).

Cristo! or Cristo santo!, used to express rage and/or disappointment (similar to "Oh my God" or "Holy Christ"), is usually not consider a bestemmia, though it could be assumed to violate the second commandment of not making "wrongful use of the name of the Lord Thy God".

See also


  1. ^ Cory Crawford. "A Brief History of the Italian Language". Retrieved 2007-01-15. 
  2. ^ BBC (2006-04-08). "Berlusconi's poll fight ends with a bang". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-05-16. 
  3. ^ BBC. "BBC Languages — Lost in words". Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  4. ^ University of Pennsylvania. "Language Log". Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  5. ^ Giovanni Dall'Orto. "G. Dall'Orto:  checcabolario (in Italian)". 
  6. ^ BBC. "BBC Languages — Cool Italian". Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  7. ^ University of Vermont. "Language Log". Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  8. ^ F. Ravano, Dizionario romanesco, Roma, 1994
  9. ^
  10. ^ Speziale-Bagliacca, Roberto (1991). On the Shoulders of Freud: Freud, Lacan, and the Psychoanalysis of Phallic Ideology. ISBN 0887384099. 
  11. ^ Gianbattista Basile, (1634) Lo cunto de li cunti also known as The Pentameron. The title can be translated as The Tale of Tales
  12. ^ Bakhtin 1941, "introduction", p.5-6
  13. ^ Bakhtin 1941, chap.2 "The Language of the Marketplace in Rabelais", p.188-194
  14. ^ "Grande Fratello, punite le bestemmie. Fuori Pietro, Massimo e Matteo" (in italian). Il Messaggero. 10 January 2011. Retrieved July 6, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Troppe bestemmie all'oratorio. E Brignano mette il divieto" (in italian). Il Giorno. 11 February 2011. Retrieved July 6, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Bestemmia" (in italian). UAAR, Unione degli Atei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti. 21 September 2008. Retrieved 28 July 2011. 
  17. ^ Giorgio Manganelli, (2007) Mammifero italiano (p.125, article previously published on 27 February 1975)
  18. ^ Tom Kington (3 October 2010). "Silvio Berlusconi condemned by Vatican newspaper for 'deplorable' jokes". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2011. 

Bibliography and sources

  • Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World [1941]. 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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