Italian Phrase of the Week: Cucù! (Peekaboo!)

Peekaboo, or il gioco del cucù (lit: the cucù game) as it is known in Italian, is a form of infant play in which the adult hides their face with their hands from the baby, and suddenly pops back into view while saying Cucù! in a high pitched, funny voice.

[cu-cù]

It is thought that the Italian name of the game derives from the cuckoo clock (orologio a cucù) because the act of opening one’s hands to reveal the face is reminiscent of the bird popping out of the pendulum clock case.

Kid Playing Hide Seek Smiling Concept
Cucù! – Peekaboo!

Another popular variation on the expression Cucù! is Bù bù settete! The first part (bù bù) is said while your hands are covering your face while the second (settete) is said when you reveal yourself to the baby. The pronunciation of is similar to that of the howling wind or the sound a ghost makes, and for this reason, is meant to frighten the child, whereas settete, with the vowel e repeated three times, is supposed to make them laugh. (Source: YouFriend.it)


In the two videos below, you can see a demonstration of both cucù and bù bù settete:

Depending on where you live in Italy, you might come across different variations on these expressions. Below are a few that we’ve encountered so far!

  • cucù settete
  • bau-cette
  • cù cù baa
  • cucù cucù sorpresa

Did you know that…?
Developmental psychologists consider this game the perfect tool to judge whether a baby has gained an understanding of object permanence, or the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be perceived with the senses.

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