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Italian word of the day: ‘Fregare’

Don’t let this deceptive word rub you the wrong way.

Italian Word of The Day: Fregare
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Like many other Italian verbs, ‘fregare’ can have multiple meanings depending on the way it’s used and on the overall context of a conversation.

It can – and does – cause confusion among non-native speakers.

Let’s start with its most common usage. 

Fregare’ is possibly the most natural Italian rendition of the English verb ‘to scrub’ and, when bearing such a meaning, it is invariably used in relation to cleaning, primarily household chores.

For instance, after a meal, an Italian friend or relative might ask you the following question: 

Puoi aiutarmi a pulire i piatti? C’è una pentola da fregare là.

Could you help me do the dishes? There’s a pot that needs scrubbing over there.

On a similar note, ‘fregare’ could also be translated with the English ‘to rub’, as in this case:

Ho freddo.

Fregati il petto!

I’m cold.

Rub your chest!

But these are just the most literal, and perhaps least problematic, meanings of the verb.

Aside from the aforementioned ’scrubbing’ and ‘rubbing’, ‘fregare’ is also widely used to indicate the not-so-noble act of deceiving or tricking someone for personal gain.

For instance, if someone tried to hand you a fake 50-euro banknote, you’d be well justified in accusing them of trying to ‘fregarvi’ (‘swindle you’).

Interestingly, the popular word ‘fregatura’, which corresponds to the English ‘scam’ or ‘hoax’, stems precisely from the above meaning of the verb.

But, there’s more. While on the subject of illicit or socially reprehensible deeds, it’s worth mentioning that ‘fregare’ can also mean ‘to steal’ or ‘to nick’, especially so when in reference to items of no great inherent value.

For instance:

Qualcuno ha rubato il mio bonsai la scorsa notte. Si dovrebbero vergognare.

Someone stole my bonsai tree last night. Shame on them.

And ‘fregare’ might also be used to refer to the very subtle art of not caring about stuff that others may expect you to care about.

However, this peculiar usage of the verb requires an equally peculiar construction.

You’ll need to place the appropriate personal pronouns (‘me’, ‘te’, ‘se’, ‘ce’, ‘ve’, ‘se’) and the pronoun ‘ne’ (meaning ‘of it’) before the verb ‘fregare’, which must be conjugated according to to its subject.

Cosa ne pensi della cucina fusion?

Sinceramente, me ne frego.

What do you think of fusion cuisine?

To be honest, I don’t really care about it.

Hai ascoltato l’ultimo album di Nino D’Angelo?

Ma chi se ne frega…

Have you listened to Nino D’Angelo’s latest album?

Who the hell cares…

As you can see, this is not a particularly nice way to say that the subject of a conversation doesn’t really concern you. So you might be better off using other constructions.

Truth be told, even when employed with the meaning of ‘stealing (something)’ or ‘tricking (someone)’, the verb ‘fregare’ is barely ever used in formal settings and often avoided altogether when speaking with people you don’t know well. 

As such, use it with caution.

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For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Merenda’

No need to chew on this word for too long.

Italian word of the day: ‘Merenda’

Merenda is a word you may come across pretty early on in your Italian language journey, especially if you happen to have Italian colleagues at work or simply hang out often enough with Italian relatives or friends.

A merenda (pronunciation available here) is a small meal usually enjoyed in the mid to late-afternoon to keep hunger at bay until dinnertime.

In English this would generally be called a ‘snack’, though a merenda can also be a bit more substantial than what would normally qualify as an afternoon snack in other countries.

Oddly enough for a country with dozens of food-related dos and don’ts, there are no precise rules over what should (or should not) be eaten as a merenda.

You might opt for sweet foods (for instance, a slice of cake, cookies, bread and jam, or some yoghurt with dried fruit) or go for something savoury (e.g., a slice of focaccia, salted crackers, a tramezzino sandwich or even a panino with cold cuts or cheese).

For schoolchildren, pane e nutella (bread with nutella cream) is by far the most popular option, though pre-packaged snacks, often referred to and advertised as merendine, or ‘little snacks’, have grown in popularity in recent years.

Regardless of exactly what they’re snacking on, Italians see their afternoon merenda not just a way to beat hunger but also a key break during their day, which is why the following workplace scenario isn’t all that rare:

Ma dove diavolo stai andando? Abbiamo una riunione tra 20 minuti!

Scusami, devo fare merenda. Torno subito.

Where the heck are you going? We have a meeting in 20 minutes!

Sorry, I need to have a snack. I’ll be right back.

Remember: Italians don’t ‘have’ a snack, but they ‘make’ a snack, hence the expression fare la merenda, or, for short, fare merenda.

Ho appena fatto merenda con due fette di torta alle mele.

I’ve just snacked on two slices of apple pie.  

As a nice bit of trivia for your next Italian general culture quiz, the word merenda comes from the late Latin verb merere (‘to deserve’), and means ‘things that must be deserved’. 

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