For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Teppista’

Italian word of the day: Teppista
Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

The word ‘teppista’ (hear the pronunciation here) can be found in abundance in the crime news pages of most Italian newspapers as well as in TV programmes or radio shows.

But the word can also be heard in far more informal contexts, especially those involving irate mothers and rogue children.

So, what does ‘teppista’ mean and where does it come from?

Though it can be translated into English as ‘thug’, ‘teppista’ doesn’t fully match the meaning of its English counterpart.

In fact, while a thug is usually assumed to be someone who commits serious acts of violence or crimes, a ‘teppista’ is a small-time teenage criminal engaging in petty acts of vandalism and street theft.

So you’d barely ever hear an Italian native speaker use the term ‘teppista’ for someone who’s committed offences as serious as assault, armed robbery or murder.

Here’s a couple of examples:

Ieri notte, la fermata del bus vicino a casa mia è stata completamente distrutta.
Ah, i soliti teppisti di strada.

The bus stop near my house was completely knocked down last night.
Ah, it’s the usual street thugs.

Un gruppo di teppisti sta lanciando uova contro le finestre della scuola di paese.
Che vergogna. Dovrebbero essere fermati.

A group of thugs is throwing eggs at the windows of our local school.
That’s a disgrace. They really ought to be stopped. 

The term ‘teppista’ can also be used in a deliberately exaggerated way to refer to naughty kids or teenagers that generally refuse to do what they’re told – just ask any Italian mother for the specific T&Cs.

In this case, the most accurate English translation would be ‘rascal’ or ‘imp’.

Non puoi andare in giro e tirare calci alla gente! Sei proprio un teppista senza ritegno.
You can’t run around and kick people! You really are a cheeky rascal.

Now that you roughly know what ‘teppista’ means and how it’s used, you might be interested in knowing where it comes from.

Briefly, the term comes from ‘teppa’, which means ‘moss’ in Milan’s local dialect. 

Teppa’ only became associated with acts of vandalism and petty crimes in the early 1800s, when a group of local young criminals chose the mossy area surrounding Milan’s Castello Sforzesco as their favourite hangout.

Though the street gang, commonly known as ‘Compagnia della Teppa’ (Moss Company), was disbanded by local police authorities in 1821, the term ‘teppisti’, which was originally used by the local community to refer to the gang’s members, has since been used to refer to any small-time offender and, in some cases, to mischievous kids.

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 expression of the day: ‘Farla franca’

You won't get away with neglecting to learn this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Farla franca'

If you like Italian detective or murder mystery novels, sooner or later you’re bound to encounter the phrase farla franca: to get away with something.

Con Poirot alle calcagna, l’assassino non riuscirà mai a farla franca.
With Poirot on the scent, the killer will never get away with it.

Pensavi davvero di potermi derubare e farla franca?
You really thought you could steal from me and get away with it?

90 Day Fiance Ellie GIF by TLC

According to the Treccani dictionary, the expression comes from the bureaucratic use of the adjective franco to mean ‘free’, describing either people that are exempt from carrying out their duties (like off-duty naval officers) or goods that are exempt from tariffs and duties.

One of the first recorded uses of farla franca as a phrase comes from the early 14th century.

The Florentine historian Giovanni Villani wrote that in June 1322, the city of Florence celebrated the Feast of San Giovanni with a big fair, ‘la quale feciono franca‘ for non-citizens – in other words, foreign merchants who came didn’t have to pay the usual taxes.

By the mid-1800s, the expression to mean escaping from some illicit act or risky endeavour without having to pay a penalty. In English (if you were being old-fashioned) you might talk in the same way about someone ‘getting off scot free’.

The la in farla franca is the part of the phrase that stands in for the ‘it’. It doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to fare but can go somewhere else, as long as it’s there.

Non possiamo permettere che la faccia franca.
We can’t let him get away with this.

Pensa di poterla fare franca.
She thinks she can get away with it.

With this phrase now in your repertoire, there’s no telling what you’ll get away with.

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