A Bad Hair Day in the Italian Language

Sep 9, 2010


i capelli (delle donne

women’s hair 

A bad hair day (una giornata storta) is nothing new. Regardless of whether their hair (i capelli) is curly (ricci), red (rossi), dark (scuri), brown (castani), or blond (biondi), women have always obsessed about it. According to Alberto Angela, author of A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome, women’s hair styles were not just fashion statements in imperial Rome but indications of their husbands’ power and their own prestige. 

Octavia, sister of the Emperor Augustus, inspired the “Octavia look,” with a little curl in the middle of the forehead, wavy hair around the temples, and a braid that ran around the top of the head in the form of a crest until coming together into a bun at the back of the neck. 

Many fashionable women would don a wig (parrucca). Made of real hair, red and blond wigs came from Germany; black ones, from the Middle East and India. 

Styles became so exaggerated that women stacked hairpieces on top of one another—“like the rows of seats in a theater,” says Angela—to create an enormous fountain of curls. Often the shorter the woman, the more monumental her hairdo was. (Mine would have been a veritable tower.) 

Women’s “big hair” reached unprecedented heights at the peak of the Roman Empire under Trajan in 115 A.D. Wanting to wear their hair “alla Plotina” (like the emperor’s wife Plotina), women created a vertical fan of hair running from one ear to the other. Little curls dangled like earrings at either end. Some women, according to Angela, looked like they were “wearing the back of a chair on their head.” 

Modern Italian women favor simpler styles, although many are impeccably groomed and never seem to have a hair out of place (non avere un capello fuori posto).
If you’re a woman and spend enough time in Italy, sooner or later you'll need una parrucchiere di fiducia (a hairdresser you can trust) to cut (tagliare), dye (tingere), bleach (schiarire), highlight (fare i colpi di sole), layer (fare un taglio scalato), or style (fare una messa in piega) your hair. 

 Once the parrucchiere takes comb (pettine) and scissors (forbici) in hand, pay attention. You might want to give directions, such as: 

     *solo una spuntatina — just a trim 

     *più lunghi qui — longer here 

     *più corti qui — shorter here 

     *mi tagli la frangia qui — cut my bangs here 

     *porti la riga a destra — part it on the right 

If you're pleased with the results, say, “Mi sta bene.” (It suits me). You also can ask for advice with problems such as la forfora (dandruff) and le doppie punte (split ends). 

If you have capelli that is grassi (greasy), secchi (dry), or crespi (frizzy), you may feel like mettersi le mani nei capelli (putting your hands in your hair in frustration).  Whenever you’re fed up with something, you may averne fin sopra i capelli (have it up to one’s hair) and become so furious that you have un diavolo per capello (a devil for hair). 

That might be enough to far rizzare i capelli (make one’s hair stand on end). 

Words and Expressions 

pettinarsi — to comb one’s hair 

spazzolarsi i capelli — to brush one’s hair 

capellone — long-haired person, hippie 

dare una spuntata/spuntatina ai capelli — to have one’s hair trimmed 

spaccare un capello in quattro -– to split one’s hair in fours, to  split hairs 

Dianne Hales is the author of La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language. 

Sometimes the only solution for any brutta giornata, as the delightful song below advises, is "lo shampoo":

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