Italian profanity

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.[1] Several of these words are cognates to other Romance languages, such as Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian and French. Profanities differ from region to region; however, 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

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,[25] 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!"

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.[26] 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.[27]

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').

In some areas of Italy, such as Liguria,[28] 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".[29] Uttering bestemmie is widely seen as a vice, and is often listed together with smoking, drinking and substance abuse.

Legal status

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.[30] 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.[31]

Minced oaths

These profanities are also commonly altered to minced oaths with very slight changes in order not to appear blasphemies.[32] For instance:

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".

See also


  1. Cory Crawford. "A Brief History of the Italian Language". Retrieved 15 January 2007.
  2. "Language Log". Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  3. Alexis Munier; Emmanuel Tichelli (2008). Talk Dirty Italian: Beyond Cazzo: The curses, slang, and street lingo you need to know when you speak italiano. Adams media. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  4. BBC (8 April 2006). "Berlusconi's poll fight ends with a bang". BBC News. Retrieved 16 May 2007.
  5. BBC. "BBC Languages — Lost in words". Retrieved 9 June 2007.
  6. 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.
  7. University of Pennsylvania. "Language Log". Retrieved 9 June 2007.
  8. Peter Silverton (2011). Filthy English: The How, Why, When And What Of Everyday Swearing. Portobello Books. Retrieved 22 April 2016.
  9. "Language Log". Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  10. Giovanni Dall'Orto. "G. Dall'Orto:  checcabolario (in Italian)".
  11. BBC. "BBC Languages — Cool Italian". Retrieved 9 June 2007.
  12. University of Vermont. "Language Log". Retrieved 9 June 2007.
  13. F. Ravano, Dizionario romanesco, Roma, 1994
  14. "Etimologia : mignotta;".
  15. Speziale-Bagliacca, Roberto (1991). On the Shoulders of Freud: Freud, Lacan, and the Psychoanalysis of Phallic Ideology. ISBN 0-88738-409-9.
  16. Cinque espressioni del dialetto veneto intraducibili in italiano, article of 16/07/2014 on (access: 31-3-2016)
  17. 1 2 3 Gabrielle Euvino (2012). Dirty Italian: Everyday Slang from "What's Up?" to "F*%# Off!". Ulysses Press. Retrieved 22 April 2016.
  18. "Language Log". Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  19. "Language Log". Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  20. "Language Log". Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  21. Pat Bulhosen; Francesca Logi; Loredana Riu (2013). Compact Oxford Italian Dictionary. OUP. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  22. "Stronzo".
  23. "The Nino Scalia Guide to Sicilian Hand Gestures".
  24. "Language Log". Retrieved 22 February 2013.
  25. Gianbattista Basile, (1634) Lo cunto de li cunti also known as The Pentameron. The title can be translated as The Tale of Tales
  26. Bakhtin 1941, "introduction", p.5-6
  27. Bakhtin 1941, chap.2 "The Language of the Marketplace in Rabelais", p.188-194
  28. Horne, Marc. "Old man use "bestemmia"".
  29. "Grande Fratello, punite le bestemmie. Fuori Pietro, Massimo e Matteo". Il Messaggero (in Italian). 10 January 2011. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  30. "Troppe bestemmie all'oratorio. E Brignano mette il divieto" (in Italian). Il Giorno. 11 February 2011. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  31. "Bestemmia" (in Italian). UAAR, Unione degli Atei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti. 21 September 2008. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  32. it:Bestemmia#Eufemismi

Bibliography and sources

External links

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