Italian Word of the Day: Scemo (idiot / silly)

If you call someone an idiot in English, the implication is that the person in question lacks basic intelligence or common sense. In Italian, one of the closest translations, besides the precise equivalent idiota, is the word scemo which functions as both an adjective and a noun.

IPA: /ˈʃe.mo/

Possible translations for scemo (as a noun)

idiot
fool
dope

dummy

Possible translations for scemo (as an adjective)

silly
stupid
foolish
idiotic

Scemo is just one option out of many possible synonyms for idiota including cretino, stupido, sciocco, deficiente and imbecille. All of these words are more or less interchangeable and make a frequent appearance when tension starts to run high and patience runs low!

As with all adjectives in Italian, the ending of scemo changes according to whether you are talking about a masculine or feminine subject, or multiple subjects.

  • scemo = masculine, singular
  • scema = feminine, singular
  • scemi = masculine, plural
  • sceme = feminine, plural

Carlo è lo scemo del paese. Ha prestato tutti i suoi soldi ad uno sconosciuto.

Carlo is the village idiot. He lent all his money to a stranger.


person sitting with a tinfoil hat, view from the back
Uno scemo con un cappello di carta stagnola = An idiot with a tinfoil hat

Far diventare scemo (qualcuno), on the other hand, means to drive (someone) crazy, whereas prendere (qualcuno) per (uno) scemo means to take (someone) for a fool.

Non mi prendere per uno scemo. So benissimo cosa sta succedendo.

Don’t take me for a fool. I know exactly what’s going on.


If you find yourself in a heated debate with someone who doesn’t see reason, you could try using some of these common exclamations. (But be careful, they can be quite offensive!)

  • Ma sei scemo?! = What’s wrong with you?! / Are you out of your mind?
  • Scemo che non sei altro! = You’re nothing but an idiot!
  • Non sono mica scemo! = I’m not an idiot, you know!

To describe the behaviour of someone with idiotic tendencies, you can use the phrase fare lo scemo. A comparable phrase in English would be to fool around or to be silly and it is mostly used when a person is being idiotic on purpose to tease you or have a laugh.

Smettila di fare lo scemo e vieni qua!

Stop fooling around and come here!


five adults being silly by sniffing an asparagus in the kitchen
Ma che scemi che siete! = You are so silly!

A closely related word is scemenza which means silliness or foolishness. Although it may be used in the singular, it is most often seen in its plural form scemenze.

Ma per favore…basta con queste scemenze!

Please…enough of this silliness!