Maybe you’ve come across this word already, on menus or at the market.
No, you haven’t misremembered: cavolo means plain old ‘cabbage’.
Now, while cabbage is valuable vocabulary in itself (minestra di cavolo? Yes please), the reason it’s really worth learning it is that it’s also a surprisingly versatile slang term.
Hear un cavolo pronounced:
It usually serves as a milder substitute for cazzo (‘shit’ or ‘dick’), much the same way ‘sugar’ and ‘fudge’ can stand in for stronger terms in English. But more than just a placeholder, we think cavolo has a certain charm all of its own.
Che cavolo vuoi?
What the heck do you want? (literally: What the cabbage do you want?)
Non m’importa un cavolo!
I don’t give a damn!
Non capisce un cavolo.
He doesn’t understand a damn thing.
… as an adjective, like ‘bloody’ or ‘crappy’…
Che giornata del cavolo…
What a crappy day…
Spero che tu abbia finito quel libro del cavolo!
I hope you’ve finished that bloody book!
… or you can yell it out on its own to express your surprise or frustration.
– Ho vinto la lotteria!
– I won the lottery!
Mi hai fatto male, cavolo!
That hurt, dammit!
It even crops up in its own expressions, such as col cavolo – ‘fat chance’…
– Ci presterà la macchina?
– Sì, col cavolo!
– Will she lend us the car?
– Fat chance! (literally: With cabbage!)
… and cavoli miei/tuoi, ‘my/your cabbages’ or figuratively, ‘my/your business’.
Se voglio figli? Sono cavoli miei.
Do I want kids? That’s my business.
Fatti i cavoli tuoi!
Mind your own beeswax!
Frankly, cavolo is a word worth giving a cabbage about.
Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.