Italian Word of the Day: Magro (thin / slim / light / scarce)

Some adjectives in Italian have only one straightforward meaning, while others encompass a range broader than you might anticipate. Magro is one such adjective!

/mà·gro/ – [ˈmagro]
Italian word "magro"

Since magro is an adjective, its ending changes based on the gender and number of the subject – magro (masculine, singular), magra (feminine, singular), magri (masculine, plural) and magre (feminine, plural). It comes from the Latin macrum.

Magro = thin, slim, slender

Let’s begin with the most commonly understood meaning of magro, which is thin, slim, or slender, used to describe a person’s overall physical appearance or the appearance of their individual limbs.

While primarily used as adjectives, magro and magra can also function as nouns, denoting a slim man and a slim woman, respectively. A falso magro (“fake slim”) refers to someone who appears slim but is not actually so. Interestingly, it’s also the name of a popular Sicilian dish!

A synonym for magro is snello. Whereas magro is almost always used in a neutral or negative sense to mean (too) thinsnello is a complimentary term. If you call a person snello, you are implying that they have a slender build and a healthy, attractive physical appearance.

Multiracial young people together meeting and social gathering
Sono tutti snelli = They are all slim

Here are some idiomatic expressions that use magro in this sense of the word:

  • magro come un’acciuga = as skinny as an anchovy
  • magro come un chiodo = as skinny as a nail

Magro = light, low-fat, lean

Magro can also be used to describe foods that are low in fat. For example, low-fat yogurt is known as yogurt magro while low-fat milk would be translated as latte magro.

Interestingly, magro is also a masculine noun that means lean meat, though you can also say carne magra.

close up of fresh yogurt with blue berry in a bowl .

Magro = scarce, poor, meagre, slight

Figuratively speaking, magro can mean scarce, poor or meagre, typically in reference to a person’s profit or salary, or a result or outcome.

an elderly woman in old age with emotions of stress holds small euro coins in her palm

However, it can also describe other impoverished circumstances, such as a lean year (un’annata magra), a scant harvest (un raccolto magro), or a meagre satisfaction (una magra soddisfazione).

Fare una magra figura means to make a bad impression, to make a gaffe.

The expression tempo di vacche magre (lit. time of slim cows) means “a time of extreme poverty”.

Magro = abstinence from meat

Before we bring this article to a close, it’s worth mentioning how magro is also used to mean abstinence from meat in religious contexts.

For example, giorno di magro means day of abstinence from meat, while pranzo di magro means meatless meal. The expression mangiare di magro means to not eat meat.

Giorno di magro can also be used in a figurative way to describe a negative, poor result, resulting in a bad day. (Un giorno di magro per la squadra = a bad day for the team).

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