Red Ferarri teaches me a thing or two about Italian.

UMBRIA, Italy–In the right circumstances any one can learn anything. Expensive math software and games to make math “fun” for kids? Be serious. Get the a deck of cards and teach them to play Blackjack. As a kid growing up in the heart of the Bible Belt we daily rode the big yellow buses down country roads, hogs lots and amber waves of grain as far as you could see any direction. And we never looked up. We were slapping cards on those hard green seats as fast as we could. What did you think was going on in those buses? No, we were not studying or reading back issues of Amish Living.

Every year, it would surprise and amaze me to watch the tiny innocent kendy-garters timidly mount those steps to Vegas on Wheels. Clueless Day One. Cold-eyed and world-wise Day Two. Knowing their numbers and doing addition and subtraction at warp speed so they could Get in The Game. Sad, really looking back on it.
Ferraris and school buses
And yet, I’m like that with studying and/or learning Italian. If the subject, noun, predicate, has a car or food-like connotation attached to it, I will go to any length to understand it. Case in point is a note I just found scribbled to myself on my computer sticky notes. About the red Ferarri in the previous blog. We’ve got one very spiffy friend who lives in a boffo, art-filled penthouse and dresses better when he’s slumming than I do when I’m say getting married. He’s funny as a crutch and yet his Italian is so hyper educated, eloquent and refined. I always feel I understand every word his says. So, I was thrown when he bopped out of a car as I was gawking at the Ferarri and without slowing down, pointed at it and said “una figata, pure” – wagging his eyebrows like Grocho as he delivered his line.

Well, I thought. And thought about it some more. And when I got done looking through my limited mental banks and dictionaries I wrote our friend Steve. He knows everything. And for a guy of non-italian persuasion he’s an aberrant freak of nature. He claims he’s from California – but I’ve had Italians tell me HIS Italian is so good they assume he is a native born Italian. And then they give me The Look. (Implying of course, “If HE can speak Italian without murdering it, what IS wrong with you, Stew?”) Steve could care less about cars but he hadn’t heard this particular word used this way. But he dug in. And here, courtesy of Steve, is your mini Italian language lesson for the day.

Hey Styoo

So, figo/figa is slang for “cool” – so una figata is a cool thing. Attenzione, pero, because figa is ALSO SLANG FOR A FEMALE PART!! The opposite, sfigato is also a useful word, meaning pathetic, loser-ly. Che sfiga, means what bad luck or how pathetic. Quello sfigato di tuo fratello = that loser brother of yours.

Don’t quote me on this, (oops, sorry Steve, too late) but I think the original word was fico – same as the word for a fig tree, and the slang word meaning cool grew out of the southern pronunciation of fico – you know how they “vocalize” consonants, like p turns to b, c turns to g, etc.

Just looked up “figata” online, and it turns out, per several sites, that it also means “it’s a deal.”
That must have been what our friend meant by “è una figata pure.” “And it was a great deal, too.” Meaning he got the Ferarri cheap?

Ciao, ragazzi,


Thanks, Steve. So, the next time you hear someone say figata it could be they are talking about something cool or a cool deal.

OK, there’s the bell. That’s all for today. Class dismissed

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland