Italian Word of the Day: Scatola (box / container)

The generic word for any box or container equipped with a lid, used for storing or transporting goods, is scatola (feminine, plural: scatole) in Italian.


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The word was likely born as a result of metathesis, which in linguistics, refers to transposition of sounds or letters in a word. The suspected root is the Medieval Latin castula, so we can assume that for one reason or another, the ‘s’ and the ‘ca’ sounds switched places.

Scatole come in many forms including:

  • scatola di plastica = plastic box / container
  • scatola di cartone = cardboard box
  • scatola di metallo = metal box / container
  • scatola di legno = wooden box / container

Ho usato una scatola di cartone per spedire le mie cose in Italia.

I used a cardboard box to ship my belongings to Italy.

A big box is known as a scatolone whereas a small box can be called either a scatolino (masculine) or scatolina (feminine).

Grandmother, her daughter and granddaughters are unpacking cardboard box at home.
Chissà che cosa c’è nella scatola! = I wonder what’s inside the box!

Scatola and its diminutive form scatoletta can also refer specifically to a can or tin used to store food, and the expression in scatola means canned / tinned. For example, a can of beans is called una scatola di fagioli whereas canned beans would translate as fagioli in scatola.

You can also use the noun scatola to refer to the contents of a box. For example:

Si è mangiato una scatola di biscotti.

He ate a box of cookies.

The idiomatic expression comprare a scatola chiusa (lit: to buy with a closed box) is used to describe the action of buying something without actually seeing it first, either because you firmly believe in the quality of the item or due to naivety.

Il ricco mercante d’arte ha acquistato un raro ritratto a scatola chiusa.

The wealthy art dealer purchased a rare portrait sight unseen.

As euphemisms for testicles go, you can’t get much better than the plural scatole (boxes). It appears most frequently in the following four expressions:

  • Mi stai rompendo le scatole! = You’re bothering me (lit: you’re breaking my boxes!)
  • Mi stai sulle scatole! = I can’t stand you! (lit: You’re on my boxes!)
  • Levati dalle scatole! = Get out of my way! (lit: remove yourself from my boxes!)
  • Ne ho piene le scatole di questa situazione! = I can’t stand this situation any more! (lit: I have my boxes full of this situation!)
La sorella più grande sta rompendo le scatole alla più piccola. The older sister is bothering the younger one.

Some other kinds of scatole you might come across include:

  • scatola cranica = skull, cranium
  • scatola nera = black box
  • scatola a sorpresa / scatola magica = jack-in-the-box
  • scatola del cambio = gearbox

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