I've heard some of the Italian expressions about the Turks, like below ones:

  • Mamma li turchi!
  • Fumare come un turco
  • Bestemmia come un turco
  • Puzza come un turco

I was wondering, where and why these expressions found a place for themselves in Italiano, which means what are the origins of these expressions?

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    I have never heard the last one. Dec 26, 2016 at 9:40
  • The Turks were a real threat to everyone living on Italy's coast for centuries. As such, they are the default for any association with barbaric, dangerous, dirty, blasphemous etc. Kind of like now every despised and/or feared stranger is a 'Marocchino', as Moroccan troops under the French flag were responsible of atrocities during the occupation following World War II. Dec 27, 2016 at 10:46
  • Grazie @Charo, ma no, sono Turco, e voglio capire loro.
    – Prometheus
    Dec 27, 2016 at 11:16
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    @Charo: Certo, non era una risposta, ma il parallelo con i “marocchini” non è del tutto insensato (e ci furono veramente episodi gravi in Italia), nel senso che un tempo – da qualche parte tuttora – si usava questo epiteto indipendentemente dalla vera nazionalità della persona di cui si parlava.
    – DaG
    Dec 27, 2016 at 11:39

1 Answer 1


Mamma li turchi!

In the end of 1700, a group of Ottomans arrived in Sicily and during a lunch at Palazzo Comitini, a Turkish admiral was caught beating a girl, so everyone, indignant, started a real "Turkish hunt" and the kids ran down the streets shouting "Mamma li turchi!" that means "Mom the Turks!" as "Mom I've found a Turkish!"

Fumare come un turco

Turkish people during Ottoman Empire were associated with arab habits, one of this was the use to smoke shisha/narghile/hooka/water pipe.

Bestemmia come un turco

Puzza come un turco

These last two sentence has no historical meaning, they are just made associating concepts. "Bestemmia come un turco" may be the association of Turkish/Arab language that may hear rough to an Italian and may give the idea of someone cursing ("bestemmiare" means "to curse to God"). The last one is actually racist and I've never heard/seen it, a better and not racist way to say the same concept is "Puzza come un maiale/cane/capra" ("He/She smells like a pig/dog/goat").

Another example of association of two concepts may be "Mi capisci o parlo cinese?" that means "Do you understand me or do I speak Chinese?"

EDIT: As suggestion from DaG it can be assumed that the sentence "Bestemmiare come un turco" can be interpreted as a memory of the ancient fights against Arabs were Christians and Muslims fought against each other. The sentence so could be intepreted as the Turkey inhabitants cursed to God to evidence the fact their don't trust in Christian God and so they curses would be more evidenced. And I quote from the user:

But in this particular case, I believe it is safer to assume Turks where put together with every other “infidel” people who blasphemed in the sense of saying things contrary to the Christian God. If it were just a matter of harsh sounds, to an Italian ear, Germans, Russians or even Greeks might be sound as cursing too.

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    Thanks for the explanation of all, @dulindraxe. Can you also please provide the source that you've found them?
    – Prometheus
    Dec 26, 2016 at 13:18
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    The "Fumare come un turco" source comes from a friend of mine degreeded in History and other sources suggest that this sentence may come from the excessive use of tobacco (through water pipe) after a years of straight prohibition empire, like this.
    – user2956
    Dec 26, 2016 at 13:42
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    If you look for "Mamma li turchi!" on Internet you will always find the same story with historical proofs. Also in the city where I live this sentence was used a lot in the past and I've always heard the same story told by old people. Moreover I'm sure the other sentences aren't "typical Italian expressions" because they surely are just associations.
    – user2956
    Dec 26, 2016 at 13:46
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    I think puzza come una capra is more common than cane/maiale.
    – CarLaTeX
    Dec 26, 2016 at 14:27
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    Bestemmiare come un turco is mentioned at page 245 of Carlo Lupucci, Dizionario dei modi di dire della lingua italiana (Garzanti-Vallardi, 1979), with the remark “ricordo delle antiche lotte con gli Arabi”. See also here. So it is definitely an Italian expression, @dulindraxe. I trust the rest of your research is better than this.
    – DaG
    Dec 26, 2016 at 14:44

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