Italian Word of the Day: Baracca (hut / shed)

The word baracca (feminine, plural: baracche) in Italian, which comes from the Catalan barraca, literally translates as a hut, shed or shack used as temporary shelter for people, animals or goods. It should be quite easy for English speakers to remember as it shares the same origin as the word barracks.

italian word for shed

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Old shack selling fruit and cider near Cloudcroft in New Mexico, USA
Una vecchia baracca – An old shack

Il cane è stato ritrovato all’interno di una baracca.

The dog was found inside a shack.

What’s interesting about baracca is that it has a number of figurative meanings which tend to be used more than the literal meaning.

First, it can refer to a company or institution that lacks stability or a family in financial difficulty. In this sense of the word, there are quite a few idiomatic expressions worth learning:

  • andare in baracca = to fail, to go bankrupt
  • mandare in baracca = to ruin
  • mandare avanti la baracca = to keep things going (business); to make ends meet (family)
  • reggere / tenere su / aiutare la baracca = to keep things going
  • salvare la baracca = to save a sinking ship
  • raddrizzare la baracca = to straighten things out, to get things in order

Sono io che mando avanti la baracca, non il capo!

I’m the one who keeps the business going, not the boss!

Full length portrit of dog wearing tie siting at desk and using computer
È il cane che manda avanti la baracca?!Is it the dog that keeps the business going?!

Then we have the old expression piantare baracca e burattini (literally “to abandon shack and puppets”) which means to leave everything behind or to up sticks. The expression comes from one of baracca‘s additional meanings which is the wooden framework used for puppet shows. You may also hear the variation chiudere baracca e burattini (chiudere = to close).

Dopo il licenziamento, Laura ha piantato baracca e burattini e se n’è andata a vivere a Parigi!

After being laid off, Laura left everything behind and went to live in Paris.

If your neighbours are having a loud party, you could use the expression fare baracca (to make merry) to describe their behaviour.

Finally, baracca works as a synonym for an object in poor condition.

Questo aspirapolvere è una vera baracca. Quando ti deciderai a cambiarlo?

This vacuum cleaner is a real piece of junk. When will you decide to change it?

Old rusted bicycle standing at the street
Una bici baracca! = A junk bike!

Some etymologically related terms include:

  • baracchino = small hut
  • baraccone = large hut, tent or stall at a fair
  • fenomeno da baraccone = freak show, sideshow (at a circus)
  • baraccato = slum dweller
  • baraccopoli = shanty town
  • baraccamento = encampment

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