I normally do not like/indulge-in profanities, but I love languages, in all their parts, so let’s go on with this topic that, though it may appear an exaggeration, is an important one, that even allows a glimpse of Italian culture.
Italians can be very vulgar, they are often and traditionally, for many historical and cultural reasons, badly spoken, especially in intimacy, as to say: …if they do not want to “save the appearances”. So it is not to be stupidly annoying that I will linger on this subject.
Furthermore, as everybody knows, profanity is one of the most embedded and significant subjects of a language, and between a language and the culture from which it arises. It is the one that awakens the strongest curiosity in the beginners, but also in general.
In this case, the topic can also be very, very useful to people who want -or have- to live in Italy for any reason, or extended period of time.
In Italian, the word “cazzo” is very typical and common, and mastering its usage can be crucial, if you want to really speak the language as a native, and even if you only want to (passively) understand what is said. Grasping the real meaning of all the uses, participating actively in real situations of day by day life, means NOT feeling excluded, plus it allows one not to get offended when it is not necessary (…or to consciously get offended, if that is the case).
Depending on the construction and the context, in fact, “cazzo” can assume many, even opposite, meanings: bad ones, good ones, or neutral ones (often serving as a mere intensifier).
The word by itself refers to the masculine member (not only the head, as I often read) all of it, excluding the testicles; and its origin –etymology- is uncertain, but it is probably related to the “ladle”, or some other cooking item. This topic is frequently discussed on the internet, so let’s move on.
Casseruola (casserole) “cazzarola”, in some central Italian inflections, is a more gentle (and acceptable) word, used sometimes as a substitution, as an exclamation of irritation by more polite and civilized people. Others substitutes for the vulgar expression we are talking about are: “cavolo” (cabbage-kale) and “cacchio”, an agricultural term that properly indicates the sprouts of the vine or some types of climbing plants or weeds, and it is used mostly in some parts on Central Italy.
It has to be pointed out as it is (and still it is) a quite strong word, in spite of its increasing diffusion, and it should never be in the mouth of educated people. It is never acceptable in formal situations or contexts, nor in writing (unless you are reproducing a dialogue, or you know what you are doing, of course. Like… now!)
I also want to point out that it is certainly less strong than (any form of) Italian blasphemy, which is known for being very intense, especially to American ears, and should NEVER be used or accepted (v. infra, the: Note on Blasphemy).
First of all, this word can be used as an exclamation, by itself, pure and simple: Cazzo! Could be reproduced in English with:
It expresses disappointment, irritation, and frustration.
You drop something, or you just remembered you forgot to call someone, or to do something you were supposed to do, and you will often say it out loud (especially if no one is listening, or you are with an intimate friend).
– “Cazzo! Ho dimenticato di spegnere il forno, prima di uscire!”
As to say:
Damn! I forgot to turn off the oven before I left the house!
And normally, an Italian would touch his/her forehead with the palm of one hand in case of forgetfulness.
while you drop the oil bottle, or whatever else.
You stupidly lose one life at a videogame and you are disappointed:
Che cazzo! Is also a “universal” exclamation, and is more or less the same as the first one, but somehow a bit more intense, and it is especially used in situations that:
– have concluded
– have been reiterated
– or are external, independent from your/our actions.
It is also used to blame someone else.
You found the door of your house open, your housemate forgot to shut it, you will say: Che cazzo! As to say: What the heck! But stronger.
Other variations can be:
– E che cazzo! Or:
– Ma che cazzo!
As to say:
but, what the heck! Or: What the fuck!
Which are also used when something is not pleasantly surprising.
– In movies, for example, in the Italian translation of The Terminator, when the Terminator appears for the first time, naked, coming from the future, the black guy working in the truck is made to say: “Ma che cazzo…?”
– You stupidly lose another life playing a videogame, and it is the third time in a row: “E checcazzo!”
Also as an exclamation ‘Sto cazzo! Or altogether ‘stocazzo! From: “questo cazzo!”, literally: this cock!
And in many variations that can assume slightly different nuances in strength, is said referring to your own “cazzo”, and sometimes the attribution to your own and specific member is clarified, or reinforced in the meaning, grabbing your own “package” with one hand, or indicating it with both, it can be used in different situations.
Principally, it expresses denial, and it can be interpreted like a strong: no way! No!
– Mi presti la macchina?
Can I borrow your car?
If someone answers:
– “Stocazzo!”, or:
– “Co’ ‘stocazzo!” or:
– “Colcazzo!” or even:
– “Ma co’ ‘stocazzo proprio”
With this dick; or: with this very same dick!
It means: “nope!”
Similarly, it can express: denial or disagreement.
For example when someone expresses an opinion that is not at all shared by the interlocutor, and he wants to be brief, but perfectly clear.
– “Quella è tanto una brava ragazza!”,
She is such a decent girl!
If someone answer:
– “Sì, ’stocazzo!”
The answer is short and indisputable, it means the one who said so thinks she is not such, and he is sure to be right. Better ask what he knows!
But it also can mean: “me”, or “myself”, depending on the situation, if sarcastically used, especially due to the result of something that required work, effort, or was annoying to do, and has been finished.
– And who did this?
(The garage is perfectly clean at last, the cake is beautiful, the house is perfectly painted, the tire has been changed, and so on).
The guy who will answer:
– “Eh, ‘stocazzo!”
It is clearly the one who did the work, as to say:
“Guess who!? Of course I did all that!” It is obvious it was me! Who else? Certainly not you! And so on.
Especially in Rome, it is also used, sometimes, as an exclamation, to communicate admiration or something positive.
– “My son finished school two years earlier!”
It can mean: “wow!”
On the contrary: ‘Sticazzi, from “questi cazzi”, those cocks (plural) and all the variations:
– ‘Sti cazzi, or:
– ‘Sti gran cazzi
These huge cocks.
These and other variations also in interrogative form or any in-between form affirmative-interrogative, express:
complete indifference, and it can be translated as a strong:
I don’t care, I do not give a fuck.
– “Mio padre è un commissario di polizia!”
My father is a police commissioner!
If someone answers:
“Ma ‘sticazzi!” (or interrogative: “E sticazzi?”)
It means that he does not care at all, and he is showing hostility.
– “Io guadagno un milione di dollari all’anno.”
I earn one million dollars per year.
As to say: who cares!?
It is often used (and it is quite aggressive and mean) to repel braggarts; so, most times, its usage is perfectly justified.
Other times, in a colorful range of nuances mastered especially in Rome and near areas, it can even express distrust, extreme lack of interest or appreciation, disinterestedness, indifference, and, depending on tone and context, almost all negative attitude toward a subject.
Composed and idiomatic “cazzo” uses
“Cazzo” assumes different meanings depending on how it is constructed and used in the sentences. It can be very idiomatic. Let’s see the principal uses of this fascinating and somehow mysterious and phallic word.
Something (anything) can be: “del cazzo”
– Una cosa del cazzo
– Una macchina del cazzo
– Una persona del cazzo
In all those cases we are speaking of something that is: worthless or bad, cheap, not working very well.
But if something is “cazzo di…” (inverted) it can indicate an impressive item.
Some examples can be useful.
– “Una macchina del cazzo (a very bad car)
is different (opposite) from:
– “Una cazzo di macchina!”
The difference can depend by the tone, and meaning could be:
An impressive car.
You loaned your car to your friend and it broke down in the middle of the street; he will say to you:
– “Tu ci hai proprio una macchina del cazzo, guarda!”
You really have a shit car, trust me!
But if you bought a new Mercedes, and your friend tells you that:
“Ti sei comprato una cazzo di macchina!”
It means that you bought a really amazing car. He likes it!
Similarly, it can be “neutral” and you have to know the all context, or deduce by the tone that is being used in order give it good or bad intensifying meaning.
– “Che cazzo di tipo!”
What a kind of guy!
It could be referred to:
– A cool guy
– An idiot.
it depends, and it just serves as an intensifier.
– “Che cazzo di genio!”
Used as an exclamation, it could, sarcastically, mean that I think that the person I am referring to is a moron.
But if I am serious, and I say:
– “Lui è proprio un cazzo di genio!”
I mean what I say: he is a genius, for real!
Fare le cose a cazzo (or: “col culo”, -with the ass-, and many variants and combinations of horrible anatomical parts of men and animals), as to say:
– “To make things with the cock.”
– “Farle a cazzo di cane.”
Principal and most used figure:
Make -things- with the cock of a dog, or shaped like it means:
To do thing badly, or very badly.
– “Questa macchina è parcheggiata proprio a cazzo! (or: “a cazzo di cane”)
It means that the car is very badly parked, for example occupying two or more spaces.
– “Ma può essere che devi sempre fare le cose a cazzo di cane?”
Can it be possible you always have to do everything in the shape of the cock of a dog?
Expresses a general complaint about the operating skills of a person.
Cazzo as: “nothing”
Non… plus …cazzo, and especially: non dire un cazzo.
“Cazzo” can simply be used as an intensifier in many activities that are realized, but especially, it can properly express the concept of “nothingness” and or “ineffectiveness”.
– “Non dare un cazzo.”
To give nothing (in the sense of lending money or other goods, charity, etc.)
– “Non capire un cazzo.”
To understand nothing.
– “Non sapere un cazzo.”
To know nothing.
– “Non mangiare un cazzo.”
To eat nothing –fasting-.
– “Quel professore non sa un cazzo!”
Means that: that teacher knows nothing (he is ignorant).
– “Non ho mangiato un cazzo oggi.”
I eat nothing all day.
– “Lui non fa un cazzo dalla mattina alla sera.”
He doesn’t do anything all day.
And so, if:
“Non ti dico un cazzo!”
It means: I will not say anything to you.
– “Questo formaggio non sa di un cazzo.”
Means: this cheese is tasteless.
But in this case, we have to pay attention, since, if something: “non mi dice un cazzo” translation:
It does not say “un cazzo” (or: niente, nothing –polite version-) to me –to myself- means that:
I am talking about something I do not particularly like. Maybe, I do not positively dislike it either, but I do not consider it special, relevant, extraordinary, etc. in any way.
A book, a movie, a painting that:
– “Non mi dice un cazzo.”
Literally: “it does not say a cock to me”,
it is meaningless and not special to my taste.
– “Io adoro le opere di Picasso.”
I love Picasso’s art work.
If someone answers:
“A me non mi dicono un cazzo!”
It means they are meaningless to him, he doesn’t like them.
– Rogue One was a great movie!
But the interlocutor says:
“A me non m’ha detto un cazzo!”
it means that: he didn’t like it!
And the expression can also mean that something, a name, a place: does not “ring a bell”.
– Lo conosci?
Do you know him?
Il suo nome non mi dice un cazzo.
No! His name does not ring a bell.
A special place has to be reserved for: “non me ne frega un cazzo” (or: fregancazzo!), which is a common way to say: I don’t care.
“Fregarsene” is: not caring; so in this case the presence of “cazzo” does not stand for the usual “nothing”, already contained in “fregarsene”, but is more like an intensifier, as to say: at all.
I do not care at all.
– “Guarda che poi lui si arrabbia!”
As: look, he will get angry, then!
“Non me ne frega un cazzo!”
I do not give a shit!
Similar in appearance, but different in meaning, the expression:
“Il cazzo che ti frega”
Is used as a reply to something that has been said, and is shameless to the point of being disrespectful.
– Non credo che sarebbe un gran sacrificio per te donarmi un rene…
I don’t think it would be a big sacrifice for you to give me one of your kidneys…
The interlocutor can absolutely interrupt the speaking person and say:
Il cazzo che ti frega!
– Non posso darti i soldi che ho perso a poker, ora, perché devo assolutamente comprare della bottiglie di Champagne Grand Cru. Certamente potresti aspettare un paio di mesi…
I can’t give you the money I lost playing poker, right now, because I need to buy some bottles of Champagne Grand Cru, that I absolutely need. Of course you can wait a couple more months…
Il cazzo che ti frega!
In those cases, also: Stocazzo, is well used. But this expression is stronger.
Essere (qualcosa-something) un cazzo, or: fare-farsi un cazzo, can be used to say: it is nothing In a physical or economic sense.
A kid falls and he has a bruise, the mom is concerned, and the doctor says:
– “Tranquilla signora, non è un cazzo.”
Take it easy Miss, it is nothing.
Your friend comes to you and tells you about the terrible car accident he had when he was eighteen; you listen very concerned, and in order to calm you down he anticipates to you:
– “Tranquillo, non mi feci un cazzo.”
As to say:
Take it easy, I did not got injured at all.
Of course, in the same kind of situation (getting hurt) cazzo can be used as the usual intensifier in an opposite way:
– “Fa un cazzo di male!”
means that: it hurts a lot!
Another example, on economic value, this time.
Someone gives you a beautiful drawing from Leonardo, you are very grateful, but it is not an original one, the economic value is almost zero, so, if you show you are too grateful, the giver could say:
– “Ma è un cazzo!”
It is nothing!
(or, “Ma non è un cazzo!” means the exact same thing, since in Italian the double negation somentimes does not change the meaning at all, but it works as a mere intesifier.)
Some confusion could arise here, when someone literally says something like:
– I made with a good cazzo (for example) yesterday!
It is not frequent, but it would mean that he/she had sex with a well-studded guy the day before.
“Mi sono fatta (feminine in this case) un gran bel cazzo ieri sera!”
Yesterday she had great sex.
But this happens, of course, every time you refer to the non-metaphorical “cazzo”, the actual one masculine member.
And now we can finally approach a word that is very common in Italian, and is a derivate of the main one (cazzo, of course) cazzata.
Cazzata can be translated as:
– Or it can be something completely inconsequential, trivial, unimportant.
In front of someone who refers to something unbelievable, or exaggerated, unrealistic, completely stupid, meaningless, and so forth.
But it also is something with no big value, if the one who uses the term is the one who made the payment, of course.
– “Questo disegno di Leonardo che mi hai regalato è proprio bello, grazie tante.”
This Leonardo drawing you gave to me is really beautiful, thank you so much!
The other one, the giver, could say, a bit trivial, but with good intentions:
“Ma ti pare, è una cazzata!”
No problem, it is nothing.
As to say: No big value; or even: You sure deserve better.
Obviously, if the one who has been given the gift defines it as a: “cazzata”, he is being very rude; and it is impossible to say something like:
“Ma che bella cazzata!”
It would sound something like:
What a nice piece of shit!
And it would sound silly, awkward, unless you are trying to be witty and sarcastic for some reason, but you had better make it a good one!
Finally the: Cazzaro is the subject that frequently tells bullshit, or: bullshit artist.
As before seen, same thing as:
– “Non valere un cazzo.”
To be worthless.
The presence of the word “cazzo” after a negative adjective reinforces its meaning:
– “Debole del cazzo.”
Very weak person.
– “Pervertito del cazzo.”
– “Ciccione del cazzo.”
– Prete del cazzo.
And similarly it works, in the sentence:
– Che cazzo vuoi (da me)?
Which is just an aggressive form of asking:
What do you want (from me)?
“Cazzo” has a pure intensifying effect.
Essere cazzi, or: essere cazzi amari.
“To be” plus “cocks” (plural):
– “Sono cazzi.”
in the future:
– “Saranno cazzi.”
in the past:
– “Sono stati -o furono- cazzi.”, and so forth.
And the variation:
– Cazzi amari.
“To be bitter cocks.”
means there are or will be big troubles or problems.
– “Dalla crisi finanziaria sono cazzi amari per l’Italia!”
Since the financial crisis, Italy is having big problems.
– “Vedi di arrivare in orario o saranno cazzi” (like threatening someone).
Manage to be punctual, or you are in big trouble.
On the same page:
“Essere cazzi per te, (or: per me, per lui, etc.)”
To be cocks for you (or: for me, for him, etc.)
means: you will see what the consequences will be!
– “Se non ti comporti bene saranno cazzi per te!” (or: “cazzi tuoi”)
Behave, or pay the price!
“Farsi i cazzi propri”, or: “essere –non essere- cazzi propri”, instead, means to mind your (his, my, etc.) own business, to be items of one’s concern or not-concern. And also: to be on your own.
Some examples are needed here.
– “Fatti i cazzi tuoi!” (imperative)
It means: mind your own business!
– “Ma facciamoci un po’ i cazzi nostri!” (exhortative)
Let’s mind our own business; let’s not stick our nose there.
– “Questi non sono cazzi tuoi!”
A mean way to say: that business is none of your concern.
– “Mi dai un mano con mia moglie?”, can you help me with my wife? “Non sono cazzi miei” or: “Sono cazzi tuoi”, means you are on your own, there, pal!
Similarly someone: “che si fa i cazzi di tutti”, literally: makes everyone’s cocks, is not sexually promiscuous, just nosy.
Rottura di cazzo
Cock breaking situation, person, etc.
(or also common, or even more common:
– Palle” or
Balls breaking situation, person, etc.)
Is something or someone who is particularly annoying, or boring, impossible to stand.
Of course “rompicazzo” is a very annoying person, and also here there are many creative variations: “scassacazzo” or “scassacazzi“, for example.
– “Perché vai sempre al bar?”
Why do you always go to the pub?
“Mia moglie è una vera rottura di cazzo (di palle, di coglioni)!”
My wife is really annoying!
Stare sul cazzo
If someone “stays on your dick”, or if you “stay on someone’s dick”, it means that you can’t stand a person, or that that person can’t stand you, and feels repulsion, a deep rejection, dislike, antipathy.
In sum the person which dick is “invaded” by the presence of the other is bothered by it.
This expression is very commonly used.
– “Ho visto Marco oggi.”
I have seen Mark today.
“Che me lo dici a fare? Lo sai che mi sta sul cazzo!”
Why are you telling me? You know I can’t stand him!
– “Inviti anche Jennifer alla festa?”
Are you going to invite Jennifer to the party?
“Lei mi piace tanto, ma è evidente che le sto sul cazzo!”
I like her a lot, but it is obvious she dislikes me a lot.
Grazie al cazzo!
Literally: thank’s to the cock.
Is like: no shit!
It is used to remark something that is obvious.
– “Sarebbe bello vincere la lotteria!”
It would be great to win the lottery!
“E grazie al cazzo!”
It is not a surprise.
Finally: testa di cazzo, is obviously a dick-head. There is no mystery here.
A Note on Blasphemy
Blasphemy is very common and extensively used (and it can also became very creative) in all Italy, but especially in some regions (for example: Veneto, Tuscany), towns, neighborhoods, social groups (uneducated people, but also: anti-clerical and atheists).
It has to be considered (and it is) very “low class,” and it is also unacceptable.
In spite of its diffusion, it is still a “big deal” on tv, for example, in official or formal situations (writing, trials, etc.) and probably both sides of the problem, its spreading usage, and its strong rejection, are due to the presence of the Vatican in the country, its relevance, and some religious intolerance and perceived oppression.
Before indulging in some basics of Italian blasphemy for English speaking readers, I want to explain a bit of my personal story, but just because I think it can be emblematic of the all situation.
I was born and raised in a family where blasphemy was completely banned and considered unacceptable; the only one person who was (unwillingly) tolerated for doing so was one of my grandpas. And he did it in spite of his formations and profession, being quite a peculiar figure.
For many years, I never, ever, used blasphemy, and I still remember the first time I did, I was seventeen. The change was motivated because of my increasing hostility toward my high-school, and a bigot professor in particular, a real ass (sorry) and a religious fanatic.
For some years, I kept using blasphemy when I spoke until I understood it was gross, ugly, mean, and it depicted me as a rude, low class, trashy individual. So I stopped harming myself, by not using it. Italy is a place where you are constantly being judged, and especially using very shallow parameters.
Years later, working as a lawyer, I came to know through work related matters that blasphemy is still illicit in Italy, and you can be fined for it. Even if it does not happen (that you are fined), you can be, and since I do not accept living under any form of “sharia law”, I started using blasphemy again as a form of civil protest, not giving a damn about what other people may think about it.
Living in America now, this is not my problem anymore, but I often use Italian blasphemy jokingly, because I am too used to it. I think it is funny, especially since nobody understands it. But, being raised Catholic, I am a bit of a hypocrite here, I reserve the “privilege” of doing so only for myself, and I dislike (it is stupid, I understand) if my wife and daughter repeat what I say.
The most common way to use blasphemy in Italy consists of pairing the name of God, “Dio”, with three main figures; two animals: dog and pig, “cane” and “porco”; and one or two human: thief, “ladro”, executioner, “boia”. Often those figures are combined together.
Variations are, then, almost infinitive, and some people can be really creative in the formation of new and most elaborate forms of insults to the Divinity and all the relative concepts and subjects.
The most insulted names are: God, Mary, and Christ, “Dio”, “Madonna” and “Cristo”, but also common, even if less so, is to insult the Church, “Chiesa” as an institution, the Clergy, “Clero”, all the Saints, “Santi”, or some specific ones.
The Catholic religion worships, in fact, the all-Sacred Family, the Holy Ghost, and a long list of Saints, some of which are very famous, and who,of course, become the target of the most creative and hard-core blasphemers. For Americans, this whole scenario would be completely meaningless and unthinkable, even for the Catholic Americans.
One difference in spoken language that highlights a big difference in sensitivity between Italy (and also Spain, for example) and the US, is that in the US, to sinfully speak of the Lord, it is enough to just name him in any way when it is unnecessary (you are not praying, or using it in a reverent or religious manner), as it is stated in the commandments: “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.”; while in Italy (and Spain, another historically Catholic Country) it is completely acceptable to name him kindly (for example: “oh, Signore!”, “O’ Dio”, or “Oddio!” Etc.) not really invocating his help, but just to express disappointment, or surprise, while to have real blasphemy you have to actually insult him.
The principal and most inertial blasphemies are:
– Porco Dio and variations like: Dio porco (inverted) or altogether porcoddio (the only one I use).
– Dio cane
– Dio Ladro
– Porco Dio ladro
– Porca Madonna, or, instead of using the pork, the synonymous “maiale” (pig, swine): Madonna maiala (less common, but also used with Dio as in: Dio maiale).
– Madonna ladra
– Porca Madonna ladra, etc.
Those are the most conventional ones which can suffer many variations and combinations.
Other common ones can be:
– Porco Dio, porca Madonna, e tutti gli angeli in colonna
(…and all the column –list- of angels)
– Mannaggia a Cristo, as to say
– Mannaggia a Cristo e tutti i santi
Damn Jesus and all Saints
– Mannaggia alla Madonna (very common)
Damn Virgin Mary
– Also: Mannaggia alla Madonna puttana, and so on
– Porco il Clero
– Cloro al Clero
It is more of a political statement expressed because of a strong alliteration, where you propose to poison all the clergymen with chlorine
Of course, the Devil is also insulted (porco Diavolo), and this is considered totally acceptable, which makes me wonder, since from 1999, the Supreme Court extended the concept of Blasphemy to all Divinities (where before, Christian ones were privileged) and there is now an official Satanic creed.
So, Italian blasphemy surely is pretty intense, and there is no reason for Italians to be “scandalized” when they hear the Spanish form of it, and vice-versa.
For Spanish people, it is unacceptable to refer to God in such derogatory terms, but their own form of conventional blasphemy is also crude and intense for the ones who are not used to it, since they: “shit on God”, as they “shit on…” …everything: dead people, moms, dads, etc.
– Me cago en Dios.
– Me cago en ti
– Me cago en tus muertos: the dead people of your family
– Me cago en tu madre;or: en tu puta madre; or: en la puta que te parió, etc.