Italian Word of the Day: Polpo (octopus)

The name Italians give to that mysterious underwater creature with eight legs is polpo (masculine, plural: polpi). This term is used for both the living creature and the dish.

IPA: /pól·po/

The octopus is a sea dwelling cephalopod known for being territorial, solitary and nocturnal. Each of its eight tentacles are equipped with suction cups that help them catch their prey.

Il polpo ha otto tentacoli con ventose.

The octopus has eight tentacles with suction cups.


Italians often mistakenly refer to octopuses as polipi (masculine, singular: polipo) but polpi and polipi are actually two very different creatures. The word polipo actually refers to the cnidaria phylum of animals that includes corals, jellyfish and sea anemones. Unlike the octopus, they lack a head, eyes and arms.

The only true synonym for polpo in Italian is piovra, which is the name assigned to the Common Octopus.

Public Domain – Kim Siever on Flickr

Interestingly there are two figurative meanings for piovra. The first is a greedy and unscrupulous person who lives by ruthlessly exploiting other people, and the second is a criminal organisation whose power and influence extend into political, social and economic spheres. La Piovra is also the title of a famous Italian TV series about organised crime.

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