Italian word of the day: ‘Tosto’

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If you’ve spent some time in Italy, you may have heard tosto used to describe a wide range of objects, situations, and people, and been left scratching your head over exactly what the word means.

Tosto is linked to the verb tostare, meaning to toast. When you heat bread and suck the moisture out of it, it hardens, and hard or tough is what tosto can mean when applied to certain physical objects.

It’s an adjective, so remember the end vowel changes to a/i/e depending on whether the ending is masculine, feminine, singular or plural.

Questa bistecca è un po’ tosta.
This steak’s a little tough.

Lei ha le braccia toste e muscolose.
She has hard and muscular arms.

Usually, though, tosto is used metaphorically. When discussing a thing (like an exam, or a job) it means challenging, or hard.

Quella salita era bella tosta.
That hill was really tough.

Quello è un gioco abbastanza tosto.
That game’s quite hard.

When applied to people, tosto has some subtle variations in meaning.

It can mean tough, determined, hard-nosed, or that you’re decisive and not easily influenced by others.

Non vi preoccupate, ce la farà. È uno tosto!
Don’t worry, he’ll make it. He’s tough!

Lei è una tipa tosta, secondo me non riuscirai a convincerla.
She’s a tough one, I don’t think you’ll be able to convince her.

It can also mean that you have chutzpah, or nerve, or that you’re slightly brash in your words or actions – especially when you talk about someone with a faccia tosta (literally, hard face; in English we might talk about someone having ‘bare-faced audacity’).

Ha avuto la faccia tosta di chiedere uno sconto.
She had the nerve to ask for a discount.

Generally, it’s seen as a positive attribute to be a little tosto.

An archaic or literary use of the word is quickly, or soon.

Lo scopriremo ben tosto.
We’ll find out soon.

While this usage is very rare these days, it lives on in music annotations, where the note tosto directs a musician to play at rapid tempo.

It’s unclear exactly how we got from one meaning to the other is unclear, but one suggestion is that toughened people are likely to react quickly.

Now you’ve learned this word, put on your best faccia tosta and go demand what you deserve from your day.

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