Italian Word of the Day: Spietato (ruthless / cutthroat / fierce)

The Italian adjective spietato can be translated into English in various ways, ranging from cruel and ruthless to fierce and cutthroat.

/spie·tà·to/ – [spjeˈtato]
italian word spietato

It derives from the noun pietà (pity), to which the prefix s- has been added. This prefix adds a sense of negation or absence, transforming the word to convey the idea of mercilessness or ruthlessness.

Because it is an adjective, the ending changes depending on the gender and/or plurality of what is being described:

  • spietato = masculine, singular
  • spietata = feminine, singular
  • spietati = masculine, plural
  • spietate = feminine, plural

When spietato takes on the meaning of cruel, merciless, or ruthless, it is often used to describe nouns related to the law such as condanna (sentence/conviction), sentenza (sentence), and decisione (decision), or individuals involved in various forms of judgment such as accusatore (prosecutor), nemico (enemy), giudice (judge), or dittatore (dictator).

When the meaning is cutthroat or fierce, it is more likely to refer to some sort of competition, usually between companies, businesses, countries, religions, athletes or sports teams.

Team competing in tug of war

You might also come across the expression fare una corte spietata a qualcuno, which means “to court someone relentlessly” or “to chase after somebody.”

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