Schifo!

“Disgusting, gross, repellent, icky, revolting” are how the dictionary translates “schifoso” or something that “fa schifo!” (literally ‘it makes disgust!’), but it’s such a delightful word to use because it sounds so right.

You pronounce it “SKI-fo”, but you can really draw it out depending on how repugnant the object in question is.  “Che SSSSCHIIIIIIFO!”, you might say as you notice that some evildoer has allowed their dog to defecate in front of the kids’ school and they’ve not only managed to step in it, but track it home and grind it into every last crevice of their shoes.

This is one of the earliest words I learned when studying Italian – I recall our professoressa commenting, when asked about some politician or other in Italy, “che schifo!”.  And the picture of him in the newspaper we were reading was perfectly matched to this sound.  He looked like the sort of guy who you wouldn’t really want to shake hands with, and if you did, you’d better count all your fingers afterwards, in that slick, slimy way of someone who looked like he embodied the worst traits of politicians everywhere.

Quite smitten with this great word I had just learned, I began to share it with friends, and it enjoyed a brief usage among a small group of us there in Oregon.

The other day, my three year old son, was talking to me in English, which we speak at home, and when describing something distasteful that had happened at school, he said it was “schifo!”.  Normally, I’ll gently repeat the phrase with the English word in place of the Italian word, in order to help him learn how to say things in English, but in this case, I let it slide.  It was “schifo!” after all!

Indeed, the word has such a ring to it, that I propose we adopt it in English too.  It doesn’t need to take the place of ‘disgusting’ – perhaps we could use it alongside that word, or utilize it for a narrower concept, such as that oily politician my professoressa spat at those many years ago.

… only it turns out I’m kind of late with my modest proposal.  The Merriam Webster online dictionary says our slang word “skeevy” is a direct descendant of “schifo”: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/skeevy !  Some words are just perfect for what they mean, no matter what language they originally were created for.

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