Italian Word of the Day: Scimmia (monkey)

The monkey, known as scimmia in Italian, is one of the closest relatives to gli essere umani (human beings). In fact, we share over 90% of our DNA with our primate cousins!

/scìm·mia/ – [ˈʃimmja]
Italian word "scimmia"

The word is derived from the Latin simia, which in turn comes from simus, derived from the Greek simós meaning ‘”snub-nosed.”

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

  • la scimmia = the monkey
  • una scimmia = a monkey
  • le scimmie = the monkeys
  • delle scimmie = some monkeys

The difference between scimmie and scimmie antropomorfe (apes) is that the former have una coda (a tail) whereas the latter do not. Here are some different types of monkeys and apes in Italian:

Monkeys

babbuino (baboon)
macaco (macaque)
saguino (tamarin)
scimmia cappuccina (capuchin)
marmosetta (marmoset)

Apes

gorilla (gorilla)
scimpanzé (chimpanzee)
bonobo (bonobo)
orango(tango) (orangutan)
essere umano (human)


From scimmia we get the verb scimmiottare, which means to mimic, imitate or mock. You can also say fare la scimmia / lo scimmiotto (literally “to do the monkey / little monkey”) to mean the same thing.

Scimmione, which literally means “big monkey,” is another way to refer to an ape. This word can be used literally or figuratively to refer to a large, oaf-like person with little intelligence.

If you describe someone as being scimmiesco/a, you are saying that he or she has the characteristics of a monkey or ape.

Here are a few other etymologically related terms that you won’t hear every day, but are nevertheless fun to learn!

  • scimmiottatura = a clumsy imitation
  • scimmiottatore / scimmiottatrice = a clumsy imitator
  • scimmiottamento = an unrealistic and pretentious imitation
  • scimmiottata = a clumsy imitation
cute portrait of a monkey
Una scimmia tutta pelosa = A fluffy monkey

Idioms featuring the word ‘scimmia’

Essere agile / arrampicarsi come una scimmia

Literal translation: to be agile / to climb like a monkey
English meaning: to be very agile


Essere una scimmia

Literal translation: to be a monkey
English meaning: to be ugly, ungainly, and very hairy; to be very agile; to have an unpleasant character; to imitate someone or copy their ideas


Avere la scimmia

Literal translation: to have the monkey
English meaning: to have a monkey on one’s back; to have an addiction, whether it is alcohol, drugs, or a strong desire to buy something.

Variations: prendersi una scimmia (to get a monkey, aka to become addicted), avere la scimmia sulla spalla (to have a monkey on one’s shoulder)



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