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As per title, what's the meaning of "talpa" when used to describe a person?

Example:

John è una talpa

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    You could have found it in any Italian vocabulary, and the corresponding figurative meaning exists in English too (“mole” as “a spy who gradually achieves an important position within the security defences of a country” or “someone within an organization who anonymously betrays confidential information”). – DaG Dec 13 '17 at 14:15
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    More context would be useful to understand the intended meaning. – Denis Nardin Dec 13 '17 at 17:39
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The word talpa may refer to an informer or spy; somebody who passes information profiting from their workplace. The word mole is used with the same meaning in English.

From the Treccani dictionary

Con uso traslato (alla cui diffusione ha contribuito anche la traduzione fr. La taupe, 1974, e ital. La talpa, 1975, del titolo di un romanzo inglese di John Le Carré, Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy, del 1974), informatore clandestino, infiltrato (o reclutato da un’organizzazione, spesso eversiva o terroristica) tra il personale di uffici pubblici o privati, spec. presso i ministeri, uffici giudiziarî, servizî di sicurezza, allo scopo di raccogliere notizie riservate o segrete: la t. del Palazzo di Giustizia; si pensa che la fuga di notizie sia dovuta alla presenza di una t. nel ministero della Difesa. Anche, funzionario, impiegato o tecnico infiltrato, o assoldato, tra il personale di un’azienda per carpirne i segreti industriali o commerciali a vantaggio di un concorrente.

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In colloquial language it also means you're almost blind, like the animal "talpa" (mole). But in this case it's usually used in a comparison: you're as blind as/like a mole (sei (cieco) come una talpa).

This meaning ("persona che vede poco") is mentioned at De Mauro dictionary, giving these examples:

non può guidare, è una talpa

and also

essere cieco come una talpa.

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  • Welcome to Italian.SE! – Charo Dec 13 '17 at 13:14
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    In fact, in Stefano Benni's book Pane e tempesta there is a character who is called "la Talpa" because he's almost blind. – Charo Dec 13 '17 at 13:22
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    This meaning ("persona che vede poco") is mentioned at De Mauro dictionary, giving these examples: non può guidare, è una talpa and also essere cieco come una talpa. – Charo Dec 14 '17 at 9:53
  • I have included the content of my comment in the answer because I think it's a good idea trying always to give a reference. – Charo Dec 16 '17 at 16:20
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In addition to what is explained by @egreg and @Liuka, according to De Mauro dictionary, the word "talpa" can also have these meanings referring to a person:

persona caratterizzata da scarsa intelligenza e da ottusità: non capisci niente, sei una vera talpa

that is, a person characterized by poor intelligence and dullness,

and also

persona chiusa, poco interessata ai fatti esterni

that is, someone closed, with little interest in external facts.

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    In the short story Casa d'altri, by Silvio D'Arzo, one can read this sentence: «Lasciamo in pace la vecchia talpa oramai.» By the description of the old woman to which the expression "la vecchia talpa" refers, it's clear that here "talpa" has the meaning of someone closed, with little interest in external facts. – Charo Dec 20 '17 at 8:58

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