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Italian word of the day: ‘Whatsappino’

Here’s one for the pioneers of the Italian language.

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

Much to the dismay of purists, dozens of new words are regularly added to the Italian vocabulary by the Accademia della Crusca, Italy’s most authoritative linguistic academy.

Though most additions are ‘Italianisations’ of popular foreign nouns or expressions, words of more dubious linguistic value also make the cut every now and then. 

If whatsappino – a term whose online popularity seems to be growing by the minute – were to be one of the Accademia’s new entries for 2023, we’d likely have to place it under the latter category.

As you might have already guessed, a whatsappino (pronounced ‘whats-up-eeno’) is any text or voice message exchanged through the well-known Whatsapp Messenger platform. 

This noun is made up of ‘whatsapp’ and the diminutive suffix ‘-ino’, used for a particularly small item (for instance, a ‘tazzina’ is a small cup) or something exceptionally cute and adorable (a ‘gattino’ is a cat that’s very lovable).

Esci stasera?

Non lo so ancora. Dopo ti mando un whatsappino.

Are you going out tonight?

I don’t know yet. I’ll send you a short message later. 

Mandami un whatsappino con la lista della spesa quando puoi.

Please send me a message with the shopping list when you have a minute.

It is still unclear who exactly felt that the words messaggio (message) or messaggino (short message) were no longer good enough for the job at hand and chose to gift Italian society with whatsappino, but one of the first reported usages dates back to 2013, when TV host Carlo Conti used it in his book ‘Cosa sarà dei migliori anni?’ (‘What will it be of the best years’).

So it appears that, once again, a great change started with a great mind.

At any rate, the word whatsappino didn’t really catch on among Italian speakers until very recently.

Usage seems to have multiplied almost overnight, likely spurred by social media conversations on the topic. 

So, should you ever have any pressing urges to start using ‘whatsappino’ in your conversations with locals, when would it be best to use it?

As with most neologisms, T&Cs regarding the usage of the word are still pretty vague.

However, it would be wise to only use whatsappino in informal settings and with people you know – Italian aunties seem to have a natural penchant for ‘whatsappini‘, so they might be a good place to start. 

You should also be aware that using the word in formal circumstances might very well result in a bunch of hostile glares or, even worse, in the quintessentially Italian ‘Ma come parli?!’, which is roughly translatable into English as ‘What on earth are you saying?’.

So, pending further developments, use whatsappino cautiously.

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

Member comments

  1. Thanks for this cute addition to my vocabulary and for the discussion of its burgeoning usage. Molto bello.

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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?

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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.