One of the most contentious and disrespectful phrases of speech in the Italian language is Stai zitto! which is the equivalent of Shut up! or Be quiet! in English.
It is made up of the following components:
- the verb stare (to stay) in the informal singular form of the imperative (stai)
- the adjective zitto meaning silent or quiet (masculine singular: zitto | feminine singular: zitta | masculine plural: zitti | feminine plural: zitte)
Stai zitto, non sento niente!
Shut up, I can’t hear anything!
In many cases, Stai zitto! is abbreviated to Sta’ zitto! with an apostrophe after sta or simply Zitto! In spoken Italian, you may also hear Statti zitto! where statti incorporates the second singular personal pronoun ti.
An idiomatic expressions that means Don’t say anything! or Lips sealed! is Zitto e mosca!, the literal translation of which would be Silence and fly (the insect)!
As it very often happens, there is no official explanation for the origin of this phrase but it is suspected that it comes from the Abruzzese expression Moscate! (Be silent!) rather than something related to the insect.
If you are talking to a group of people rather than an individual, it is necessary to use stare in the informal plural form of the imperative: State zitti!
State zitti, ragazzi! Ci state disturbando!
Shut up, guys! You’re bothering us!
There is also the formal plural form of the imperative – stia zitto – which would be used with your superiors, the elderly and those you don’t know well. It is useful to know this form just as a matter of interest, but in real life, the formality of the relationship would prevent you from ever saying a phrase like this.
Far stare zitto (qualcuno) is how you would say to make (someone) shut up.
Below are a few additional ways of saying Shut up! or Be quiet! in Italian:
- Silenzio! / Fai silenzio! = Silence!
- Taci! = Shut up! (from the verb tacere which means to stop talking, to be quiet)
- Chiudi il becco! = Shut you beak!
- Stai muto! / Muto! = Shut up!
Rimanere zitto means to stay quiet or to not say a word.
È rimasto zitto tutto il tempo.
He was quiet the whole time.
If you use zitto twice (zitto zitto), the implication is that someone did something quietly without making any noise, or drawing any attention to themselves. It can be used in both a literal and figurative sense.
Zitto zitto, Mario si è infilato nel giro di quelli che contano.
Mario quietly sneaked into the circle of worthy people.