Playing Hooky in the Italian Language

Nov 18, 2010

Playinghooky blog

marinare la scuola

"marinate the school," play hooky

I played hooky the other day. The weather was perfect (faceva bello). The tide (la marea) was out. I didn’t have a deadline (una scadenza) to meet. So I headed for my favorite beach (la mia spiaggia preferita) and walked for miles. Then I felt guilty (in colpa).

Perchè?” (Why?) an Italian friend asked. “Così fanno tutti.” (Everyone does it.) It’s true. Every country has some equivalent of “playing hooky.” The British “play truant”; the Germans “blaumachen”; the French “faire l'école buissonnière” (make school in the bushes).

But in Italy cutting class — marinare la scuola (marinate or pickle the school) in standard Italian -– seems to be a national pastime, so widespread that linguists have identified dozens of local expressions for truancy. Here are some examples from various regions:

• Piedmont: tagliare (to cut), bucare (to make a hole), fare sega (to make the saw, to saw)

• Lombardy: scavallare (to frisk about), far cavalletta (to make the grasshopper), impiccare (to hang), salare (to salt)

• Trentino: bruciare (to burn), andare in marina (to go to the marina)

• Veneto: far manca (to make the left), brusare or bruciare (to burn), buco (hole)

• Liguria: fare il ponte (to make the bridge), saltare (to leap or jump)

• Emilia-Romagna: fare fuoco (to make fire), fare fuga (to make flight), fare focaccia (to make focaccia)

• Tuscany: fare chiodo (to make the nail), fare forca (to make the pitchfork), fare sale (to make salt)

• Umbria: fare salina (to make salty)

• Marche, Lazio: fare sega (to make the saw)

Molise: fare spago (to make string)

• Campania: fare filone (to make the big wire)

• Puglia: fare fruscio (to make a rustle), saltare la piomba (to salt the lead), fare salasso (to make bloody

• Calabria: scioperare (to go on strike), giocarsela (to make a game of it)

• Sicily: far Sicilia (to make Sicily), stampare (to print), sparare (to shoot), buttarsela (to throw one’s self), fare luna (make moon), fare l'ora (make the hour)

• Sardinia: fare vela (make sail)

By whatever name, skipping school is, as an Italian writer puts it, una delle attività più amate dagli studenti di tutto il mondo (one of the most loved activities of students of all the world.)

Woody Allen, the multi-talented American wit, once explained the allure of this guilty pleasure:  “There are few things in life more enjoyable than playing hooky,” he observed, “It’s like postponing the electric chair.” (Ci sono poche cose nella vita divertenti come marinare la scuola, è come rimandare la sedia elettrica.)

You can find more regional expressions for cutting school, including some in dialect, by clicking here

For Italian speakers, the clip below provides excuses for not going to school (le scuse per non andare a scuola). One tip:  For a febbre finta (fake fever), insert a  thermometer  into the mouth of your pet dog. Or you can claim that  you must attend the funeral of a close relative. This excuse, the young narrator cautions, should not be used more than una o due volte (one or two times).


Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Itaian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.

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