A barrel brimming with beer. A plate overflowing with pasta. A heart bursting with joy. Anything that is full to the brim, be it physical or metaphorical, can be described using a simple adjective in Italian: colmo.
Because it is an adjective, the ending changes depending on the gender and number of the person or thing being modified:
- colmo = masculine, singular
- colma = feminine, singular
- colmi = masculine, plural
- colme = feminine, plural
The phrase essere colmo di qualcosa means to burst or brim over with something whereas the related verb colmare means to fill to the brim or to shower (someone with something).
La tazza è colma di caffè.
The cup is full to the brim with coffee.
Il mio cuore è colmo di felicità.
My heart is bursting with joy.
Used as a noun, colmo may also translate as peak or summit, although it isn’t heard as frequently as the synonyms cima and vetta.
The expression il colmo per / di… also forms the basis of certain jokes in Italian where a serious question is met with a comic answer that utilises a play on words. In this case colmo refers to something absurd or ridiculous with an ironic connotation, but it isn’t easy to translate into English because there isn’t a precise equivalent.
Here are a few examples that are relatively easy to understand for learners. (You can find an entire list of these riddles on Aforisticamente).
Qual è il colmo per un computer?
Non avere un programma per la serata.
What is the most absurd thing for a computer?
Not having a schedule for the evening.
In Italian, programma means both computer program and schedule.
Qual è il colmo per un politico?
Cercare per la figlia un buon partito.
What is the most absurd thing for a politician?
Looking for a good marriage prospect for his daughter.
In Italian, partito means both political party and marriage prospect.
Qual è il colmo per un cane?
Incontrare un osso duro!
What is the most absurd thing that can happen to a dog?
Meeting a tough cookie.
In Italian, osso duro means both hard bone (literal) and tough cookie (figurative).
Finally, the exclamation Questo è il colmo! is said in the face of facts or statements that surprise for their excessive audacity or impudence. Some possible translations in English include This beats everything! or This takes the cake!