Italian Word of the Day: Rottame (wreck / piece of junk)

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.

red old rusty car in scrapyard
Un vecchio rottame = An old piece of junk

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.

Businessman massaging nose bridge feeling fatigue, from headache or eye tension after working too long
Oggi mi sento un rottame. Non riesco a lavorare. = Today I feel like a wreck. I can’t work.

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.

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