It came to my attention very fast the extensive use of "schifo", "fa schifo" in everyday language and TV, mostly in situations that actually don't cause disgust. I connected immediately to the same trend that happened in the English language since 1800's. I wanted to know if it is a recent thing, a reaction to everyday's stressful life, a manifestation of discontent about the Italian political situation exacerbated by the rise of TV. Is it an older phenomenon?

I also noticed an overload of those two terms in very peculiar situations. I remember only these:

Questa cacciavite fa schifo.
Questo è un schifo di televisione.
 - both with the meaning of not working properly

Is this extension of meaning a recent phenomenon as well?

  • 1
    Questo è uno schifo di televisione
    – rano
    Dec 16 '13 at 17:02
  • 2
    Note that televisione is the abstract noun relative to “television”; the translation of “television set” is televisore, although also televisione is popular whith this meaning.
    – egreg
    Dec 16 '13 at 21:25
  • 1
    @egreg I wanted to mention the actual television set, didn't knew about this difference. Thank you.
    – symbiotech
    Dec 16 '13 at 21:36
  • 3
    Interesting fact: according to Google the term "schifo" experienced a very wide usage before 1850, stayed low until 1980 and since then it's steadily rising. The expressions "è uno schifo" and "fa schifo", OTOH, are confirmed to be of recent widespread usage. Dec 17 '13 at 5:36
  • @MatteoItalia please post your comment as an answer so it can be voted up. it is very useful.
    – symbiotech
    Dec 18 '13 at 0:54

The increasing use of the word schifo and derivative terms is not uncommon in everyday life in Italy, whereas it is true that it is more common to hear it on TV and that is mainly because the commonly spoken language (even in formal contextes) is being leveraged towards dialectal and colloquial forms.

  • it is worth noting that in some families, in the previous generation kids were taught to never use schifo, as they considered it rude / vulgar.
    – Agos
    Dec 17 '13 at 10:56
  • 1
    some families belonging to the bourgeoisie : )
    – rano
    Dec 17 '13 at 12:58
  • 2
    Yeah, it's a middle class thing. But it is also "cultural": during fascism, in the schools, the word "schifo" could not be used and, after the war, the Christian democrats didn't accept its use in the radio/TV shows.
    – user193
    Dec 18 '13 at 21:09

"Schifo" is a very ancient word, used in Italian literature since the very beginning, Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca, etc. It is from French "eschif" and this from Franconian "skiuh(j)an", meaning "aver riguardo", "caring".

A reference here.

  • Dante Alighieri (1265-1321): "mettine giù, e non ten vegna schifo, | dove Cocito la freddura serra".
  • Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374): "vidi … Laura mia con suoi santi atti schifi | Sedersi in parte".
  • Giovanni della Casa (1503-1556): "non sono da fare in presenza degli uomini le cose laide, o fetide, o schife".
  • Gasparo Gozzi (1713-1786): "una nuvola di zanzare molestatrici, e schife".
  • Giuseppe Parini (1729-1799): "e tu schifo rifuggi | Ogni vivanda".
  • Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837): "le altre cose moderne che prima mi pareano squisite, mi parvero schifissime".
  • Giovanni Verga (1840-1922): "la ragazza … aveva a schifo poi di lavare i piatti e imbrattarsi le mani in cucina".
  • Italo Calvino (1923-1985): "il rospo proprio le metteva schifo".
  • Giovanni Testori (1923-1993): "Dài e dài, lo schifo gli distruggeva tutto, voce, sogni, allegria, forza e gli faceva venir voglia di sputar addosso a tutti e a tutto".

Just for fun, try to google this: "schifo site:http://www.liberliber.it filetype:pdf". It returns 536 occurrences, from the most diverse contexts.

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