In English, we have a remarkable abundance of terms to describe someone who behaves obsequiously towards someone in order to gain favour: bootlicker, sycophant, crawler, brown-nose, suck-up, toady, pufferfish and a few other vulgar options I won’t mention here!
/lec·ca·piè·di/ – [lekkaˈpjɛdi]
Italian, too, has its own range of terms, but the one we’re going to concentrate on today is leccapiedi. It is the combination of the verb leccare (to lick) and piedi (the plural of piede “foot“), so the literal translation would be “feet-licker”.
L’ho sempre detto che lui è un leccapiedi.
I’ve always said that he was a bootlicker.
Leccapiedi is an invariable noun, meaning its form remains the same in both singular and plural. You could have one leccapiedi in your workplace, or ten! Additionally, since it applies to both genders, you can use either masculine or feminine articles with it:
- il leccapiedi = the bootlicker
- i leccapiedi = the bootlickers
- un leccapiedi = a bootlicker
- dei leccapiedi = (some) bootlickers
- la leccapiedi = the bootlicker
- le leccapiedi = the bootlickers
- una leccapiedi = a bootlicker
- delle leccapiedi = (some) bootlickers
This term, which first appeared in the 1700s, is still widely used today, particularly in professional settings. Indeed, there’s no better term to describe that annoying colleague who would go to great lengths to butter up the boss!
If you prefer not to use the noun, you can always fall back on the expression leccare i piedi (a qualcuno) – literally “to lick someone’s feet” – or you can use fare (to do / make) with the noun – fare il / la leccapiedi.
Lecchi sempre i piedi al capo.
You’re always sucking up to the boss.
So, what are the synonyms for leccapiedi in Italian? As you can see below, there are just as many in Italian as in English. Take your pick!
- leccaculo (literally “butt-licker”) vulgar
- adulatore (literally “adulator”)
- lacchè (literally “lackey”) literary
- leccatore (literally “licker”)
- sottopancia (literally “under the belly”) not common
- satellite (literally “satellite”) not common
- galoppino (literally “little galloper”)
- portaborse (literally “bag-carrier”)
- ruffiano (literally “with red hair“) literary
- piaggiatore (literally “flatterer”) literary
- tirapiedi (literally “feet-puller“)
- caudatario (from the Latin cauda meaning “tail”) literary
- lecchino (literally “little licker”)
- lustrascarpe (literally “shoe-shiner”) not common
- turiferario (literally “censer-carrier”) literary
Heather Broster is a graduate with honours in linguistics from the University of Western Ontario. She is an aspiring polyglot, proficient in English and Italian, as well as Japanese, Welsh, and French to varying degrees of fluency. Originally from Toronto, Heather has resided in various countries, notably Italy for a period of six years. Her primary focus lies in the fields of language acquisition, education, and bilingual instruction.