THE BLOG
05/19/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Is Italian Slang Sexist?

I recently re-watched the documentary "Man Of La Mancha" about the disastrous filming of Terry Gilliam's take on Don Quixote's story (a movie that has never been completed). In the documentary, the director of photography of the film (who is an Italian born and raised) commented on the series of episodes of bad luck that hit the set using the word "sfiga." In the Italian language, he explained, "sfiga" is the absence of "figa" (s before a word usually creates such an effect). "Figa" in Italian is used in slang referring to the female sexual organ of reproduction. The word composed using s plus "figa" (the absence of "figa") means bad luck in Italian.

I started thinking of other expressions of my language that use sexual references in everyday life (excluding curses). I came up with another couple of slang expressions that this time use the male sexual organ of reproduction (in slang "cazzo"). These expressions are: "scazzo" and "incazzo". Interestingly enough, the first one is made using the same grammatical rule of "sfiga" (the s before a word that alludes to the absence of said following word). In slag "scazzo" means a lazy state of being; when we feel indolent, incapable of deciding what to do (and a little frustrated about it).

So, while the absence of a vagina is the ultimate bad luck, the absence of penis is lethargy. Interesting.

What is "incazzo", then? The use of "in" plus word personally gives me the idea of being very much into something, a sort of superlative. "Incazzo", formed by the association of this preposition with the slang word for penis, means very angry. In English you would say "pissed off": an interesting case of cross-language synecdoche (in Italian we use the container and in English you use, more discretely, the contents. The meaning is the same: rage).

After my little excursion into the Italian slang, I am more and more convinced that men made our language and our post-war slang and that women in my country still have a long way to go. Why am I thinking that? I went from Italian slang to the condition of Italian women in the newly opened decade. What can I say: I'm a little discouraged. Socially, we are in really bad shape. A generation ago it was different: in the 70s they were fighting (and winning) for the rights to abort and divorce and now we have our prime minister making us feel like little dolls capable only of dressing nicely, smiling profusely (and if, possible perennially remaining 22 years old).

I feel incredibly "incazzata" for this "sfiga" that hit us. I wonder: can we Italian women snap out of this "scazzo" and prove we can do better? Then again I think that the women's condition in my country is not the only disaster ... what is going on in Italy? Can we protest, can we do something? Can we react? Instead nothing. I really think that our "sfiga" as a country is to be too damn beautiful.

Things don't go well? Our politicians are the laugh of Europe? They are teaching us that you're stupid if you follow the rules? Young people don't have decent jobs and our immigrants are learning from us not to respect our country? Who cares: look outside: the sun is shining; look at the beautiful view; look at the hills, the baroque building across the street; listen to the birds chirping and taste this morning cappuccino and cornetto ... life is beautiful! Che sfiga...