Italian Word of the Day: Fazzoletto (handkerchief / tissue)

What do you reach for when you need to blow your nose? An old-fashioned handkerchief or a disposable tissue? Regardless of your choice, you’ll find solace in knowing that the Italian word for both of these items is the same: fazzoletto.

/faz·zo·lét·to/ – [fattsoˈletto]
Italian word "fazzoletto"

Fazzoletto is the diminutive of the archaic term fazzolo, a large handkerchief worn around the neck or head. It is derived from the Latin faciolum, from facies (“face”).

Being a masculine noun, it takes the following definite and indefinite articles:

  • il fazzoletto = the handkerchief / tissue
  • i fazzoletti = the handkerchiefs / tissues
  • un fazzoletto = a handkerchief / tissue
  • dei fazzoletti = some handkerchiefs / tissues

Italians love creating diminutives from words, even if the word is already a diminutive itself. For this reason, don’t be surprised if you hear fazzolettino (literally “little tissue”) with the -ino suffix!

If you want to specify that you are talking about a tissue or Kleenex rather than a cloth handkerchief, you can use the term fazzoletto di carta, with carta meaning “paper.”

cold woman with handkerchief.

Likewise, you can use the term fazzoletto di stoffa (with stoffa meaning cloth or fabric) to describe a cloth hanky or a kerchief used to cover your head.

Beautiful portrait of an old woman

You might use a fazzoletto in the springtime if you suffer from hay fever (febbre da fieno) or allergies (allergie), and it’s easy to go through a whole tissue box (scatola di fazzoletti) when you come down with the common cold (raffreddore comune).

Figuratively speaking, fazzoletto can also refer to a small plot of land, likely because the square shape of the tissue resembles the shape of the plot. Some common terms include fazzoletto di terra (a small plot of land) and fazzoletto di giardino (a small plot for a garden).

In days gone by, tying a knot in one’s handkerchief – which translates to fare (or farsi) un nodo al fazzoletto in Italian – was a common way of reminding oneself not to forget something important. Of course, it wouldn’t tell them what they needed to remember, but at least they knew they had to remember something!

As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that tissue paper is known as carta velina in Italian, and it has no connection to the word fazzoletto.

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