Why you should care
Because substituting salad for pasta can help.
Part of an occasional series on unusual words we wish we had in English. Read others here.
Italians love to eat — three squares every day and multiple espressos between. They also love to sleep during digestion. Never would they foresake their sacred naps, or pisolinos (the Italian equivalent of a siesta). Trouble is, these days they must, especially during the working week. It’s tough. Almost impossible.
So Italians have come up with a word that combines their two favorite activities — eating and sleeping — but turns them into a type of torture.
Abbiocco: The powerful drowsiness you feel after a heavy meal
The affliction tends to hit after lunchtime, when you should be heading back to work but your belly is bloated with a plateful of spaghetti and your eyelids are shutting like magnets. The laws of gravity are stronger than that double espresso and your (weak) will. Abbiocco even sounds heavy, as though the double “b” and “c” are made to linger upon like a bed of nails.
“The term comes from Italy’s south, where locals are influenced by warm climate and sunny days, which make them more prone to post-lunch laziness and sleepiness,” says Paola Gillo, a Rome-based linguistics expert. In the cooler north, where fog blankets many cities, fewer Italians are addicted to abbiocco, though not totally immune to its strong attraction.
Picture this: Spreadsheets are waiting for you back at your desk, but all you long for — and for which you could “kill,” as Italians say when they are in desperate need — is a place to be horizontal and undisturbed. Said place need not be a plush king-size bed; even a mattress thrown on the floor is fine. In the worst-case scenario, this will do: Simply sit back in your chair and let your head dangle while you doze off for a short while. You need not go all Rip Van Winkle — 10 minutes of napping are enough to restore energies.
Abbiocco, though, is not to be underestimated. It a treacherous enemy of action and motion. It doesn’t attack when you have all the time in the world to chill out, like on weekends or Friday evenings after everyone’s left the office. No, it strikes at the least opportune moments possible, as when you’re only halfway through a hectic working day full of reports to write, emails to send, calls to place — or, even worse, a meeting with the boss for which to prepare.
Etymologically, the word is related to the similar-sounding Italian word chioccia, indicating a hen that is hatching, snugly warm and comfortable, explains Simonetta Rossi, a semantics researcher who’s currently collecting weird Italian words for an upcoming book. “The image of a mother hen, all curled on herself, recalls a sleeping human,” she says, noting how the onomatopoeic angle of the noun is quite revealing. By pronouncing the double consonants out loud, you can almost hear the heavy, falling sound of a brick or piece of wood.
Instead of a brick, think of a human head: The one of the eater who has just slurped up his lasagna or tortellini and instead of paying the bill and leaving, has collapsed on the table, full of sleep-inducing carbs and calories. That’s abbiocco.