Italian Word of the Day: Macchia (stain / spot / blot)

The Italian word macchia is used to describe any stain, spot, or blot caused by ink, paint, dirt, or liquid, whether created intentionally or not. It directly derives from the Latin macŭla.

/màc·chia/ – [ˈmakkja]
Italian word "macchia"

Because it is a feminine noun, it takes the following definite and indefinite articles:

  • la macchia = the stain
  • le macchie = the stains
  • una macchia = a stain
  • delle macchie = (some) stains

Here are a few common verbs you will see used with macchia:

  • levare / togliere / rimuovere una macchia = to remove a stain
  • fare una macchia = to leave a stain / to stain
  • farsi una macchia = to get a stain / get stained

Some common things that leave macchie include colore (colour / paint), olio (oil), unto (grease), vernice (paint), vino (wine), inchiostro (ink) and sangue (blood).

Coffee on the shirt
Una grossa macchia di caffè = A big coffee stain

Note that you can also use the verbs macchiare (to stain) and macchiarsi (to stain oneself) as an alternative to fare / farsi una macchia.

In addition to stains, macchia can also refer to spots on an animal’s fur. For this reason, Macchia is quite a popular name for dogs in Italy.

Dalmatian dog portrait yellow autumn background

The adjective spotty can be translated as macchiato or a macchie. For example, a green spotty dress would be un vestito verde a macchie.

An intriguing idiomatic expression is a macchia di leopardo (leopard spots), used to depict something that occurs haphazardly or in a non-uniform manner, similar to the way leopard spots are unevenly distributed across its body.

A similar expression is a macchia d’olio (oil stain), used to describe something, such as news or gossip, that spreads quickly.

Just like stain or spot can be figuratively used to mean blemish or dishonor, the Italian word macchia can be used in a similar manner. For instance, una macchia sull’onore di qualcuno translates to a stain or blot on someone’s honour.

Expanding on its original meaning, macchia is also used to describe a bush, scrub, or maquis (e.g., terreno a macchia = scrubland). This usage originates from the multi-colored appearance of the plants, distinct from the surrounding ground. This alternate interpretation has led to the development of a couple of idiomatic expressions, including:

  • darsi alla macchia = to take to the bush / hide out
  • vivere alla macchia = to live in hiding
  • fare (qualcosa) alla macchia = to do something clandestinely
panoramic landscape with dramatic sky over farmland in autumn with colorful trees and green pine in the foreground

To wrap up, let’s briefly explore some of the other, more technical translations for macchia, primarily used in photography, videography, television and astronomy.

  • macchia fluorescente = fluorescent spot
  • macchia di riflessione = flare spot / ghost
  • macchia di luce = hot-spot
  • macchia lunare = lunar spot
  • macchia solare = sunspot
A closeup of the bright and beautiful small Jupiter planet in the planetarium
la Grande Macchia Rossa = the Great Red Spot

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