SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Rompicapo’

This word needn't be a headache.

Italian word of the day: 'Rompicapo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Learning another language is often enough to make your brain hurt, so you might be glad to hear that Italian has a word for just that: rompicapo, literally ‘head-breaker’. (Click here to hear it pronounced.)

It’s composed of the verb rompere (‘to break’) together with the noun capo (‘head’), and it’s a way to say that something is a real ‘puzzle’ or ‘conundrum’. 

Trovare una soluzione a questa faccenda è un bel rompicapo.
Solving this matter is a real conundrum.

If you’re talking about the kind of puzzle you actually want to do, rompicapo can mean ‘brain-teaser’ – a test or game where being tricky is the whole point.

But if it’s something that’s less welcome, un rompicapo is more like ‘a headache’.  

Questo lavoro è un vero rompicapo.
This job is a right headache.

Non voglio rompicapi.
I don’t want any hassles. 

You can equally apply it to the person who causes you such brain pain.

Il figlio è diventato per lui un rompicapo.
His son has become a headache for him.

You can also use the word grattacapo (literally ‘head-scraper’, from capo + grattare, ‘to scratch, scrape or grind’) as a synonym for ‘hassle’ or ‘worry’. 

Procura continui grattacapi ai suoi genitori.
She is always causing worries for her parents.

But don’t confuse a rompicapo with a rompiscatole (literally, ‘box-breaker’), which is something – or someone – that really gets on your nerves. In other words, a pain in the neck rather than the head. 

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Quanto meno’

At least give this Italian word a try.

Italian word of the day: 'Quanto meno'

Here’s a useful adverb to have on hand when practicing your conversational Italian: quanto meno.

It can be used in a couple of different ways, but most commonly means ‘at least’.

We’re calling this a word rather than an expression because although ‘quanto meno’ is slightly more common in contemporary Italian, it can equally be written as ‘quantomeno’.

In many contexts, quanto meno and almeno are effectively synonyms. The only difference is that almeno simply means ‘at least’, while quanto meno sometimes implies a more emphatic ‘at the very least’ or ‘as a minimum’.

Mi potevi almeno accompagnare alla stazione.
You could have at least accompanied me to the station.

Se avessi saputo prima avrei potuto quanto meno darvi una mano.
If I had known earlier I would have at least been able to give you a hand.

Il traffico sulla strada per Como è stato tremendo.
Quanto meno avete avuto bel tempo.

The traffic on the way to Como was terrible.
– At least you had good weather.

At Least You Tried Trash GIF - At Least You Tried Trash Bart Simpson GIFs

In other situations, however, quanto meno takes on a different meaning, becoming ‘to say the least’:

I suoi piani sono quanto meno avventurosi.
Her plans are adventurous to say the least.

I risultati sono preoccupanti, quanto meno.
The results are disturbing, to say the least.

There’s a third word that’s another synonym for ‘at least’: perlomeno. You’ll sometimes see it separated out into three words: per lo meno. Again, it can often be used more or less interchangeably with almeno.

Vorrei prendere perlomeno una settimana di vacanza quest’estate.
I want to take at least one week off this summer.

Perlomeno and quanto meno can also both mean something like ‘at any rate’.

Non verrebbe mai a trovarmi a casa, perlomeno.
She would never come to visit me at home, in any event.

Sei molto più in forma di me, quanto meno.
You’re in much better shape than me, at any rate.

None of these are to be confused with the quite different tanto meno, which means ‘much less’:

Non ho mai incontrato Laura, tanto meno sua sorella.
I’ve never met Laura, much less her sister.

Può a mala pena dirlo, tanto meno farlo.
He can barely say it, much less do it.

Got all that? Now see if you can fit quanto menoperlomeno and almeno into at least one conversation this week.

See our complete Word of the Day archive here. Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

SHOW COMMENTS