Ever since we began feeling the first aches and pains of age, my husband and I have jokingly started calling each other rottame (masculine, plural: rottami).
It derives from rotto, the past participle of the verb rompere (to break), and the suffix -ame whose purpose is to form collective nouns from simple nouns, often with a derogatory connotation.
The first and most literal meaning of rottame doesn’t refer to a person, but to broken or run-down machines such as cars. In this case, the best translation is piece of junk, wreck or heap of metal.
Questa macchina è un rottame oramai: devo cambiarla.
This car is a wreck. It’s time to get a new one.
What’s more, it can specifically indicate fragments of a broken object, or in other words, scrap or junk. When used in this specific sense, it almost always appears in its plural form rottami rather than its singular form (e.g: rottami metallici = scrap metal). Deposito (di) rottami is the term for a junkyard or scrapyard in Italian.
As you might have guessed from our introduction, Italians also use this word in a figurative sense for a person whose physical strength or mental health has failed. Two possible English translations are wreck and mess.
Oggi mi sento proprio un rottame.
Today I feel like an absolute wreck.
From rottame, we get the derivatives:
- rottamare = to scrap, to demolish
- rottamazione = the collection and redistribution of scrap metal
The verb rottamare can also be used in figuratively for a person, often in a playful way. It is also an example of jargon used in politics when a politician is marginalised or sent to an early retirement to make room for someone new.
Hanno rottamato tutti i vecchi membri del partito.
They got rid of all the old members of the party.