Italian expression of the day: ‘Lavata di capo’

Italian expression of the day: ‘Lavata di capo’
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
This isn’t as pleasant as it sounds.

A lavata di capo – literally, wash of the head – might sound like a lovely experience, especially when you’ve been craving a trip to the salon after months of pandemic lockdown.

But if you’re ever summoned for one, don’t expect to be met with aromatic hair products and an offer of a scalp massage.

A lavata di capo (or lavata di testa) is Italian for a roasting, a dressing down, a big scolding – usually from a superior to a subordinate.

La professoressa mi ha appena dato una lavata di capo!
The teacher just gave me an earful!

Ho avuto una bella lavata di capo per colpa tua.
I got a real roasting thanks to you.

The idea behind the expression, according to the dictionary, is that in washing someone’s head you can scrub away all their bad thoughts and behaviour.

The closest we have in English might be the old-fashioned exclamation ‘wash your mouth out’ for someone who’s been using dirty language or saying something blasphemous or disrespectful.

Another fun alternative to lavata di capo is ramanzina, occasionally spelt romanzina.

This apparently stems from romanzo – a novel – and is rooted the idea that you’re being lectured via a long and boring story. It’s a bit less severe than lavata di capo ­– more of a reprimand or an admonition than a tongue-lashing.

Non le serve un’altra ramanzina.
She doesn’t need another lecture.

Ha beccato una ramanzina dalla madre.
He got a scolding from his mother.

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Next time you go to the hairdressers, make sure it hasn’t been too long since you last tended to your split ends – otherwise you can expect a lavata di capo or at the least a ramanzina along with your lavaggio dei capelli.

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

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