Italian Word of the Day: Birbone (naughty / dirty / roguish)

There are three words I consistently use to describe my three-year-old son in Italian: birichino, monello and today’s word, birbone.

/bir·bó·ne/ – [birˈbone]
Italian word "birbone"

When birbone conveys the meaning dirty or underhanded, it almost always appears in the expression (giocare) un tiro birbone (to play a dirty trick).

Alternatively, it can have a reinforcing function, adding emphasis to words like freddo (cold), caldo (hot), paura (fear), fame (hunger), sete (thirst) and so on. For example:

  • fa freddo (it is cold) > fa un freddo birbone (it is terribly cold)
  • fa caldo (it is hot) > fa un caldo birbone (it is terribly hot)
  • avere paura (to be scared) > avere una paura birbona (to be very scared)
  • avere fame (to be hungry) > avere una fame birbona (to be very hungry)
  • avere sete (to be thirsty) > avere una sete birbona (to be very thirsty)
Young toddler outside in the snow.
Il bambino ha un freddo birbone! = The boy is very cold!

However, most Italian learners are more acquainted with the noun birbone than with the adjective. When used as a noun, it signifies a rascal or naughty boy/girl, typically directed at a child. It can be considered a synonym of birbante or monello.

Cute boy with pillow annoying his older brother
Mio fratello è un birbone! = My brother is a rascal!

Whether you use it as an adjective or noun, it has masculine, feminine and plural forms as you can see below. Note that the masculine singular form is identical to the feminine plural.

  • birbone = masculine, singular
  • birbona = feminine, singular
  • birboni = masculine, plural
  • birbone = feminine, plural

A humorous derivative of birbone is birboncello which means exactly the same thing.

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