Italian Word of the Day: Carciofo (artichoke)

Today we’re going to be taking a look at one of my favourite vegetables, the humble yet incredibly tasty carciofo. Unlike many Italian words, the word doesn’t have a Latin origin – rather, it comes from the Arabic kharshuf.

It is the word, not only for the edible part of the plant, but also the plant itself.

cover image with the word “carciofo” and its translation written on a notepad next to a cup of coffee

Carciofo is a masculine noun. Its plural is carciofi.

il carciofo
un carciofo

i carciofi
dei carciofi

Artichokes can be enjoyed in numerous ways:

  • carciofi fritti = fried artichokes
  • carciofi ripieni = stuffed artichokes
  • carciofi lessi = boiled artichokes
  • carciofi alla giudia = Roman-Jewish fried artichokes

Per pranzo, ho preparato i carciofi ripieni.

I made stuffed artichokes for lunch.

The artichoke plant is actually a member of the thistle family, and what we call an artichoke is simply a thistle bud before it has matured into a flower. The outer leaves cover a fuzzy inedible centre called the pappo (choke), which is positioned on top of a meaty and very delicious core, called the cuore di carciofo (artichoke heart).

Close up of artichoke in the garden. Healthy eating.

Figuratively speaking, carciofo is one way to refer to a dull, stupid or foolish individual.

Tuo fratello è un carciofo! Ne combina sempre una!

Your brother is an idiot. He’s always getting into trouble!

The expression mangiare il carciofo (lit. to eat the artichoke) refers to the act of doing something bit by bit, which is most likely an allusion to the fact that it takes such a long time to pick out the tasty parts of the plant!

Finally, we have another expression, (fare) la politica del carciofo (lit. to do the artichoke politics) which means to expand your territory little by little, or to take possession of something bit by bit. According to Dizionario Italiano, the phrase is linked to a quote spoken by Duke Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia in reference to his battle against French and Spanish invasions to reconquer his dukedom.

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