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As a foreigner I have always found the expression 'rompere le scatole' to be very funny. I know its meaning and I was wondering where it comes from.

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As egreg has noted, scatole is currently used as an euphemism. There are other expression that use scatole as a replacement for testicles, like 'averne piene le scatole' or 'andare fuori dalle scatole'. Here, here, and here you can find references. However, I am not sure about the origin of the expression. Maybe it was not strictly linked to the meaning 'testicles'.

The expression was already used in the XIX century. The following quote is from Primiero, Antonio Prospero, Philippe Joseph Simon, and Badon Edmond, I figli della calunniata. Dramma in 5 atti, 1844.

Ast. Andiamo, già fra vicine ed amiche...

Raim. Fra vicine ed amiche già... ci possiamo rompere le scatole tutto il santo giorno, non è vero?

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    Amazing detective job :) Well done! – Roberto Dec 16 '13 at 23:24
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The only info I could find on the net (here and here) seem to point to the fact that during WWII, "to break the boxes" would refer to take ammo from their carton boxes, that is, an attack was imminent. It would be very cool if it was true, but both links lack any real source, so "caveat lector" ;)

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    Maybe this is true, but I think that the phrase is mainly an attenuation of the more vulgar rompere le palle. – egreg Dec 16 '13 at 0:36
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    Yes, the less intriguing, but pretty logical explanation is what most italians would consider the origin of this saying :) Anyways, those two links are the only ones I found that discuss where "rompere le scatole" came from. My parents were too young during WWII, but I'll try asking. – Roberto Dec 16 '13 at 10:44
  • But one also says scassare which is again a reference to boxes (casse). This would mean that maybe is the other way around: rompere le palle o scassare le palle is derived from rompere le scatole. – Emanuele Paolini Oct 22 '14 at 8:32
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I remember my grandpa told me it has something to do with the tin pan that was used to cook the eggs for breakfast, which was also called "scatola". They would crack the egg smashing it slightly to the edge of the pan. So it would be a "scatola" that breaks the eggs, or "rompe le palle". Does it make sense?

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    Welcome to Italian.SE! The meaning of "scatola" as a pan to cook the eggs seems somewhat strange to me. Grande dizionario della lingua italiana (here and here), which is a quite complete Italian dictionary, doesn't mention it. – Charo Feb 26 at 9:51
  • @Charo sei sicura che scattola con due T non fosse proprio l'intenzione dell'autore? cfr books.google.it/… – linuxfan says Reinstate Monica Feb 26 at 10:44
  • @linuxfansaysReinstateMonica: No, I'm not sure about that. But an orthographic error that is quite frequent among strangers seems more plausible to me that the intentionality of using an archaic form of this word. – Charo Feb 26 at 13:40
  • @charo ok, but consider that was their (the poster) grand father speaking. – linuxfan says Reinstate Monica Feb 26 at 14:26
  • @linuxfansaysReinstateMonica, see: books.google.com/ngrams/… – Charo Feb 26 at 14:32

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