Merda, the Italian term for shit

Italian profanity (bestemmia, pl. bestemmie, when referred to religious topics; parolaccia, pl. parolacce, when not) are profanities that are blasphemous or inflammatory in the Italian language.

The Italian language is 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, and is widely known to be based on Florentine language.[1] Several of these words have cognates in other Romance languages, such as Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, and French.

Profanities differ from region to region, but a number of them are diffused enough to be more closely associated to the Italian language, and are featured in all the more popular Italian dictionaries.

List of profanities in the Italian language

Frocio, a translation of faggot

[43] [44]

Profanity in literature

Italian writers have often used profanity for the "spice" it adds to their publications. This is an example from a seventeenth century collection of tales, the Pentamerone,[99] 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 from Neapolitan as follows:

"Ah, good for nothing, feather, full of shit, bed-pisser, 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 then yelled back, "I'll vaffancul you!"

Blasphemous profanity

1633 plaque in Venice forbidding gambling, selling goods, and blaspheming

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.[100] In Europe during the Middle Ages, the most improper and sinful "oaths" were those invoking the body of the Lord and its various parts—such as Bergamo dialect expression pota de Cristo ("Christ’s cunt")—which resulted in these oaths being used the most frequently.[101]

Nowadays, the most common kind of blasphemous profanity involves the name of God (Dio), Christ (Cristo), Jesus (Gesù), or the Virgin Mary (Madonna), combined with an insult or sometimes an animal—the most used being porco ("pig"), as in porco Dio ("God [is a] pig") and porca Madonna ("the Virgin Mary [is a] pig"); or cane ("dog"), as in Dio cane ("God [is a] dog").

Common blasphemous profanities in Italian are: porco Dio (often written porcodio or also porcoddio); Dio cane ("God [is a] dog"); Dio merda; Dio bestia; Dio maiale; porco Gesù; Gesù cane; Madonna puttana; porco il Cristo; Dio stronzo; and Dio Fauss (or Dio Fa, more colloquially).

In some areas of Italy,[102] such as Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Umbria, Marche, Lazio, Abruzzo, Emilia Romagna, Piedmont, Lombardy, and Tuscany, blasphemy is more common, but not because of a strong anti-Catholic sentiment.[citation needed] Tuscany and Veneto are the regions where bestemmiare is most common, and in these areas, blasphemy appears in the everyday speech almost as an ordinary interjection.[103] The historical reasons for this are the various conflicts that these two regions have had with the Vatican.[citation needed]

At the same time, it is not an entirely uncommon pastime to come up with creative and articulated bestemmie,[104][105] especially among the lower social classes, such as dockers.[106]

Since the advent of the World Wide Web, several websites[107][108][109] have come and gone that featured user-submitted or machine-generated collections of complex bestemmie, and manuals compiling these collections of bestemmie have been printed.[110]


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.[citation needed]

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 version of the reality television franchise Big Brother (Grande Fratello) "must be immediately expelled," because they offend "millions of believers."[111]

Legal status

Until 1999, uttering blasphemies in public was considered a criminal misdemeanor in Italy (although enforcement was all but non-existent), although nowadays, it has been downgraded to an administrative misdemeanor. Some local administrations still ban the practice. For example, after the curate complained about the frequency of blasphemous profanity in the parish recreation centre, the comune of Brignano Gera d'Adda banned the practice in the civic centre, and in all places of retail business, be it public or private.[112] As of July 2011, only obscenities that are directly related to God are classified as a bestemmia under Italian law. Any insult to Mary or the various saints do not actually represent a bestemmia, or any violation of existing laws and rules.[113]

Minced oaths

These profanities are also commonly altered to minced oaths, with very slight changes in order not to appear blasphemous.[114] For instance:

Other minced oaths can be created ad libitum when people begin to utter one of the above blasphemies, but then choose to "correct" themselves in real time. The principal example is somebody beginning to say "Dio cane" (where cane means "dog"), and choosing to say instead "Dio cantante"[117] ("God [is a] singer") or "Dio cantautore" ("God [is a]songwriter"). Other common minced oaths include: "Dio caro" (typically used in Veneto, Lazio, and Umbria), meaning "dear God"; "Dio bono" (with bono being a contraction of buono, that means "good") or "Dio bonino" (same meaning, typically used in Tuscany); and "Dio bon" or "Dio bonazzo" (same meaning, used in Castelfranco Veneto) instead of "Dio boia" (where boia means "executioner"). Another minced oath is "Dio mama" (mum God), common in Veneto, and another one is Codroipo, the name of a town in Friuli Venezia Giulia which is an anagram of "porco Dio". A peculiar minced oath created extemporaneously, 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 translates as: "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." Same for "Dio Cristo."

See also


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Bibliography and sources