Italian Word of the Day: Tormentone (catchphrase / hit song)

A tormentone is an expression, catchphrase, buzzword, meme, or piece of music that is repeated ad nauseam via the mass media or word of mouth, gaining rapid popularity and widespread diffusion as a result.

cover image with the word “tormentone” and its translation written on a notepad next to a cup of coffee

Tormentone is a masculine noun, and the plural form is tormentoni.

il tormentone

un tormentone

i tormentoni

dei tormentoni

It derives from the verb tormentare (to torment), which makes sense since tormentoni have the power to torment the minds of those who encounter them!

Tormentoni can be categorised in various ways, with the three most common definitions being:

  • A catchy (and often annoying) song that becomes so popular that you hear it everywhere you go; a tormentone estivo or tormentone dell’estate (summer hit) is a song that is released and peaks in its popularity during the summer months
  • A catchphrase that is overused by a particular person or character, so much so that the two become inextricably intertwined. A good example is “Hasta la vista, baby!“, a catchphrase associated with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s title character from the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
  • An image, song or other content that gains great popularity on the internet, otherwise known as a meme in English and Italian.
young girl sitting on a red arm chair covering her hears
Sono stufa di quel tormentone! = I’m tired of that hit song!

Ma no, di nuovo quel tormentone!? Lo passano in radio ogni cinque minuti!

Oh no, that irritating hit song again?! They play it every five minutes on the radio.

If you’re interested in listening to a classic tormentone from Italy, look no further than Valeria Rossi’s hit Tre Parole from 2001. It was the second best-selling song of the year in Italy, and sold over one hundred thousand copies.

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