Why you should care
Because it can boost your odds of finding a date.
Part of an occasional series on unusual words we wish we had in English.
Italians love to show off — we all know that. They’re easy to spot abroad just by their chic way of dressing, with brand names beaming like fluorescent lights. At home, it’s even worse. It’s a competition between who looks best. Designer clothes, expensive handbags and the latest fashionable pair of bright red sunglasses are all must-haves to flaunt while strolling the streets in the evenings, on the lookout for potential dates. Attire, together with highly put-together looks, can help in flirting.
So it’s no surprise that we have a word for that. It describes that time at the end of a day in a small town when women dress their very best and stroll the streets.
Strùscio: That magical looking-for-a-date moment
And please make sure to pronounce the accent where it falls, on the “u.” It’s an onomatopoeic noun that reflects the sound made by skirts and gowns sweeping pavements and floors. Strùscio is that special romantic time at the end of the day when the sun sets, turning the sky on fire and girls walk across town all dressed up in their best clothes, pretty with perfume, tons of makeup on, with that just-out-of-the-hairdresser-
But the word’s origins are more spiritual and less material, says Simonetta Rossi, a semantics expert who’s currently collecting Italian weird words for an upcoming book. Rossi says strùscio was born in the Kingdom of Naples in the 1700s. “It was a religious Easter festivity when noble families visited churches, the so-called Sepulchres Tour, dressed in their best regalia,” she says. A mystical catwalk, in a way, indicating the movement of feet across narrow alleys and the inevitable rubbing of many people one against the other during crowded Holy Week celebrations.
And when it comes to showing off looks and fashion, placing enormous value on “external bodily and material appearance,” Neapolitans and southern Italians in general simply rule. If you ever go to a wedding celebration down in the deep south, you’ll see: All the ladies look like supermodels, photos take hours, and lunch lasts the whole day, meaning you’ll be stuffing yourself with divine food and booze nonstop throughout the night too. This ostentatiousness exists in the north, but it’s a bit more understated.
Mores may evolve, but vocabulary remains. Across time, as religious habits weakened, strùscio was thus extended to indicate “the usual evening stroll, especially on Sundays, in towns and villages” with a more provincial ambiance, according to Italy’s historical dictionary Treccani.
Today it’s a typical trait of laid-back, sleepy small towns where everybody knows each other, loves to gossip and cares what other people think of them. You won’t find this in major cities like Rome and Milan, where nobody looks your way even if you’re Miss Universe.