Italian Word of the Day: Barba (beard)

Whether you love them or hate them, many men choose to grow a beard at some point in their lives. In Italian, the word for this type of peli del volto (facial hair) is barba.

/bàr·ba/ – [ˈbarba]
Italian word "barba"

The word comes from the Latin barba of the same spelling and meaning.

Barba is a feminine noun, so it takes the following definite and indefinite articles:

  • la barba = the beard
  • una barba = a beard
  • le barbe = the beards
  • delle barbe = some beards

If you want to say that someone has a beard, you can use either the verb avere (to have) or portare (to wear).

There are various adjectives you can use to describe a man’s barba. It may be rada (thin), folta (thick / bushy), lunga (long), corta (short), ricciuta (curly) or brizzolata (streaked with grey).

Now let’s go through the various stages of beard growth!

Immediately after using a rasoio (razor) or rasoio elettrico (shaver) on your face, you should appear ben rasato (clean-shaven). However, you might end up with the occasional taglietto (nick) or pelo incarnito (ingrown hair) if your shave wasn’t perfect.

Then, by around 5 o’clock in the evening, you will start to notice l’ombreggiatura della barba (the shadow of a beard) creeping in. This kind of beard is also known as la barba pomeridiana (the afternoon beard).

If you decide not to raderti (shave yourself) for the next couple of days, you will develop a barba corta (stubble). By this time, your significant other might start complaining if they aren’t used to kissing an itchy face!

If you don’t shave after this stage, we can assume you are actively trying to grow a beard. Those after a more unique look may decide to grow out their basette (sideburns) or keep things neat with a small pizzetto (goatee). The more daring might go for full-blown baffi (moustache) or a barba folta (bushy beard). You might even decide on a barba vichinga (Ducktail or Viking beard)!

But if you’re like many men, you might eventually find that maintaining your beloved barba is too much work. So, you gather your crema / schiuma da barba (shaving cream), a fresh lametta da barba (razor blade), and perhaps a pennello da barba (shaving brush), and after bidding it a bittersweet farewell, you begin to farsi la barba (shave) once again.

Portrait of content bald manual worker with beard

Fare la barba is a common expression that means to shave, but it also has the figurative meaning of brushing against or very nearly touching something.

If you’ve lived in Italy for any amount of time, you are probably aware that barba is also a figurative way of saying noia (bore / drag). It can be used to refer to things, situations or specific people (e.g. Sei proprio una barba = You are a real bore). It appears very frequently in the following exclamation:

Barba has a few other meanings as well. It can refer to the tassel or rootlets of a plant, which gives us the expression mettere le barbe (to take root), in addition to the beard of certain animals, such as the capra (goat).

In some regions, barba is a masculine noun that denotes an elderly man of the household who isn’t the father – il barba – and in colloquial Italian, barbe finte (fake beards) refers to those in the secret service.

Young curly man with beard sitting by the window, holding female hand and looking at her dearly

Idiomatic expressions featuring ‘barba’

Fare barba e capelli a qualcuno

Literal translation: to do beard and hair to someone
English meaning: to take someone to task, to be extremely critical of someone

Servire qualcuno di barba e capelli

Literal translation: to serve someone from beard and hair
English meaning: to treat someone poorly

Farla in barba a qualcuno

Literal translation: to do it in someone’s beard
English meaning: to trick, to deceive someone

Fare qualcosa alla barba di qualcuno

Literal translation: to do something to the beard of someone
English meaning: to do something at someone’s expense

In barba a qualcosa / qualcuno

Literal translation: in the beard to something / someone
English meaning: in spite of / in defiance of something / someone

Far venire la barba

Literal translation: to make the beard come
English meaning: to be boring

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