It is somehow a common rule in Italian to find many verbs negated with the s- prefix (e.g. smonta, sparecchia, sposta).

Does sfiga ("bad luck, misfortune") etymologically come from figa (vagina) or is just a coincidence? My impression is that sfigato (and, by extension, sfiga) is some sort of "man without a lady" (thus "unfortunate") and that this was its origin.

I have always wondered about the coincidence of those two terms.

4 Answers 4


Your impressions are confirmed by the Treccani dictionary. The word fica is mostly used in the variant figa in Northern Italy. Then sfigato is somebody without any attractiveness and, by extension, someone who is unlucky.

From this sfiga in the sense of “misfortune” was derived.

sfigato agg. [der. di figa, variante settentr. (ma largamente diffusa) di fica, col pref. s- (nel sign. 4); è più probabile che sfiga sia tratto da sfigato, che non viceversa]. – Nel linguaggio giovanile, sfortunato, iellato (anche con riferimento non a circostanze occasionali, ma a condizioni sociali, economiche e sim.): sono sempre stato s.; e con uso sostantivato: non è facile trovare uno s. (o una s.) come te; anche, privo di attrattive, di fascino, insignificante: non portarti dietro la solita amica s.; mi ha invitato in un localetto davvero sfigato.

Contrary to the dictionary, I'd say that's what after “anche” should be the first meaning; not by usage, but historically.


This recent article by Michele Loporcaro for Accademia della Crusca confirms that the adjective "sfigato" comes from the noun "figa", which is a Northern variant of the noun "fica", by the addition of the prefix s- and of the suffix -ato, in the same way as its synonym "sfortunato" comes from "fortuna". About the origin of the noun "sfiga", the article explains that the more plausible derivation is from the adjective "sfigato" (another possible derivation would be directly from the noun "figa", but it seems less plausible). Anyway, it is mentioned that different dictionaries doesn't completely agree with this. Both terms, "sfigato" and "sfiga" have been in use since the 1970s:

Palmare è quella di sfigato, aggettivo di forma participiale che, esattamente come il sinonimo sfortunato derivato da fortuna, è formato parasinteticamente (ossia, con l’applicazione simultanea di un prefisso e un suffisso: qui s- e -ato) dal sost. figa, variante settentrionale di ficapudendum muliebre’. Dall’aggettivo sarà stato tratto a sua volta il sostantivo sfiga ‘sfortuna’ (come l’aggettivo, in circolazione dagli anni Settanta), dato che meno plausibile sarebbe una formazione di quest’ultimo direttamente dall’altro sostantivo (per la derivazione di sfiga da sfigato si pronuncia il Vocabolario Treccani 2008, mentre per una derivazione in senso inverso optano il GRADIT e lo Zingarelli 2017; infine, il GDLI deriva, ancor meno plausibilmente, sia sfiga sia sfigato direttamente da figa).

The article explains that this derivation process presupposes in a quite obvious way a male chauvinist view that having access to this "figa" is a lucky condition. But these terms had a male chauvinist connotation only in its origin since, becoming widely used words, they have lost such nuance and are nowadays simply colloquial synonyms of "sfortuna" e "sfortunato". It is also stated that Grande dizionario della lingua italiana marked them as vulgar, but that more modern dictionaries qualify them as belonging to youth language or to popular, colloquial language, so they are not perceived anymore as vulgar:

Il procedimento di formazione presuppone ovviamente una visione maschilista per cui l’aver accesso al denotato è condizione fortunata, col che si risponde affermativamente al quesito posto dalla lettrice e dal secondo lettore. La risposta è però affermativa solo quanto all’origine prima, dato che, divenendo di larga circolazione, dato che, divenendo di larga circolazione, le parole sfiga e sfigato hanno perso di pregnanza scadendo al rango di semplici sinonimi più coloriti di sfortuna e sfortunato: se il GDLI le diceva ancora “del linguaggio volg[are]”, gli altri vocabolari sopra citati le qualificano come del linguaggio giovanile (Vocabolario Treccani), fam(iliare) (GRADIT), colloq(uiale)/pop(opolare) (Zingarelli 2017) registrando lo stingimento dell’originaria coloritura volgare.


Interestingly, "fare la figa" is to make a good luck sign, which is to close your fist with the tip of your thumb sticking out between your index and middle fingers, like < here >. I can't confirm, but it would be an interesting link if "sfiga" would be related to the fact that "figa" also meant "luck" sometimes in the past.

  • 4
    Bizarre, but also interesting. I had never heard of the expression "fare la figa" but i admit to having seen something similar to the "charms" or "decorations" which you linked to your answer. Still, I doubt it is a widely-spread expression, at least in Northern areas.
    – Paola
    Dec 19, 2013 at 23:17
  • Maybe I'm being too Freud-ian, but I believe the gesture is related to figa in the "usual meaning" (with a bit of imagination). Maybe sfigato was first used as egreg suggests which, later, caused the born of this kind of gesture.
    – Bakuriu
    Dec 22, 2013 at 13:50
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    Roberto's hint is correct: see here. Definitely read The Evil Eye, by Frederick Thomas Elworthy, 1895, chapter VII, figure 111. Also keep in mind Vanni Fucci's gesture in Inferno XXV: «… Al fine de le sue parole il ladro | le mani alzò con amendue le fiche, | gridando: "Togli, Dio, ch'a te le squadro!" …»
    – user193
    Jan 19, 2014 at 6:29

You are 100% correct. In Italy there is the imagery of the "macho" and a man who can get women is considered cool, while a man who is not popular among the ladies is uncool! Sfiga= slang for "without a vagina" so it means bad luck. Sfigato= someone uncool and no lucky. It can be used for women too with the same meaning (feminine adjective: sfigata). It basically means "loser". For converse "figo" is a very cool guy (that's why the name of the Italian restaurant chain "Figo pasta"). "Figa" used as an adjective for a lady means super-hot, very beautiful woman. It is not offensive and can be used in an informal conversation to compliment a lady. As a confirmation of the Italian machismo the worst offense for a man is to be called "cornuto" (meaning with horns). It doesn't mean devil, it means that his wife cheats on him! In Southern Italy angry drivers may show you their hand with the sign of the "corna" (horns) from the window of their cars. They are telling you that your wife or lady cheats on you! Lol (see picture). I think they have this last tradition (to call a man cheated by his wife "a man with horns") in many Ispanic countries as well, included Mexico. This gesture with the hand is also used to send away bad luck. For example if an Italian sees a black cat he may do this gesture to protect himself. In Southern Italy people are very superstitious. Not so much in the North! "Fare la figa" referred to a woman, means she behaves like a princess or she is "hard to get". "Fare il figo" referred to a man means he thinks he is "God's gift to the ladies", or more in general he got a big ego. There is a difference here: to be a figo/a it means to actually be cool. And instead "fare il figo/la figa" is only an attitude and means that they only think that they are cool (and they probably are not). To make a good luck sign is called "fare le corna". However, is not really used to get good luck, but is used to neutralize bad luck (like in the example I made of the black cat). "Fare le corna" means also "to cheat on someone" depending by the contest (this interpretation comes from the Middle Age when the lord of the land had sex with the wives of the paesants and gave to the husbands the horns of the animals he hunted in return). In Napoli the amulet resembling a red chili pepper is called "cornetto" and is believed to bring good luck. But is not chili pepper, it is a red little horn. If you like to know more google "good luck Italian cornetto". The difference is that the hand making the sign of "corna" keeps bad luck away, while "the cornetto" actually attracts god luck. They are both Southern Italian amulets. In Northern Italy people use to make fun of the Southerns because of their numerous superstitions. All this vaste superstitious tradition related to the horns is probably pre-Christianity and coming from the ancient paganism before Christ. All those superstitions are condemned by the Roman church, but people keep adopting them. "Fare le corna" sign. It may be a way to neutralize bad luck or to neutralize the evil eye (malocchio). It may also be an offensive sign insinuating that someone is been cheated on. Horns are really popular inside Italian folklore and superstitions and are probably of pagan origins.enter image description here

  • 1
    This seems more like personal opinion than a documented answer. Can you please edit it to add sources backing your opinions?
    – egreg
    Feb 24, 2017 at 18:36

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