Italian Word of the Day: Poltrona (armchair)

Poltrona is the word for a large and comfortable seat, equipped with backrest and armrests. It derives from the archaic word poltro meaning bed. In English, the most common translation is armchair.

italian word for armchair

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

la poltrona
the armchair

una poltrona
an armchair

le poltrone
the armchairs

delle poltrone
(some) armchairs

Some of the most common seats that are classified as poltrone in Italian include:

  • poltrona di pelle = leather armchair
  • poltrona a sacco = beanbag chair
  • poltrona reclinabile = recliner
  • poltrona a dondolo = rocking chair
  • poltrona a orecchioni = winged chair
  • poltrona del dentista = dentist’s chair
  • poltrona letto = chair bed

Questa poltrona è comodissima! Non ho voglia di alzarmi.

This armchair is very comfortable! I don’t want to get up.

Senior woman sleeping in an armchair with a book on her lap.
Dorme sulla poltrona = She’s sleeping in the armchair

The word is also used to refer specifically to the upholstered seats located in the front part of the stalls at the theatre or cinema.

Figuratively it may also denote a place of power, an important and prestigious position, or stable and well-paid job. For example:

L’attore, nonostante non abbia nessuna esperienza in politica, punta alla poltrona di presidente.

The actor, despite having no political experience at all, is aiming to become president.

Another possible meaning for poltrona is lazy woman. As tempting as it would be to assume a direct relationship between poltrona “lazy woman” and poltrona “armchair”, the two actually have separate origins.

The former is the feminine form of poltrone (lazy man), a variation on the archaic word paltone (beggar) whose meaning changed to “lazy” due to its similarity to the verb poltrire (to laze about)!

Bored woman looking at her phone in bed.
Sono una poltrona! = I’m a couch potato!

Finally we have the proverb “Chi va a Roma perde la poltrona” which literally translates as “He who goes to Rome loses his seat”. Italians typically use this phrase towards someone whose seat they have taken, say, at the cinema or theatre. The origin of this saying dates back to Medieval times when the faithful, who set out on a long pilgrimage to pray, found that their job had been taken in their absence.

Chi va a Roma perde la poltrona!

Lit. He who goes to Rome loses his seat!

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