Frociaggine

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Angela Giuffrida, "Pope Francis allegedly used offensive slur during discussion about gay men", The Guardian 5/27/2024:

Pope Francis allegedly used an offensive slur during a discussion with bishops over admitting homosexual men into seminaries, several Italian newspapers have reported.

The pontiff, 87, is alleged to have made the remark during a closed-door meeting with bishops in Rome last week, where they were reportedly discussing whether out gay men should be admitted to Catholic seminaries, where priests are trained, a topic that the Italian bishops conference (CEI) is said to have been pondering for some time.

During the discussion, when one of the bishops asked Francis what he should do, the pope reportedly reiterated his objection to admitting gay men, saying that while it was important to embrace everyone, it was likely that a gay person could risk leading a double life. He is then alleged to have added that there was already too much “frociaggine”, a vulgar Italian word that roughly translates at “faggotness”, in some seminaries.

Needless to say, this got plenty of coverage in U.S. media as well as in Italy and also elsewhere, and has been on my to-blog list ever since the articles first came out.

And also needless to say, my first reaction was to wonder about the morphology and the etymology of the "slur". Wiktionary glosses frociaggine as "(vulgar, derogatory) faggotry", and  explains the etymology as

From frocio +‎ -aggine.

…where -aggine is  "added to adjectives to form nouns denoting a quality, typically negative", and frocio is given two senses. The first is flagged as  (derogatory, Rome, dated), glossed as "German", and given the suggested etymology "Probably from frocia ('nostril')". The second (and relevant) one can be an adjective, glossed as "(vulgar, mostly derogatory) gay, homosexual", or a noun, which is given two glosses:

  1. (vulgar, derogatory, outgroup) gay man, poof, faggot
  2. (friendly, ingroup) homosexual person, especially a gay man

Both the adjective and noun forms are flagged as "originally Rome", with this "Uncertain" etymology:

  • Likely from Latin flūxus (passed through a minor Italian cognate stratum). Cognate with floscio (and the regional froscio), Galician frouxo, Portuguese chocho, Sicilian frocia, Spanish flojo.
  • Others believe to be same as above, with a semantical shift. Alternatively from Venetian fenocio (“(slang) gay”) with rhoticisation of the /-n-/ by influence of the above term.

In "Concerning 'Faggotry' – an Italian View", 1P5 6/4/2024, Aurelio Porfiri lists four hypotheses about the root word frocio, which he credits to an article in Focus Magazine. Three of the four are quite different from Wiktionary's hypotheses:

[T]he first hypothesis is that this term could be a dialectal corruption of the term français, “French,” made in the Napoleonic era. So the Romans called the French invaders “froscè” using a distortion of the term français. At this time, if this etymology is true, the word did not have a meaning referring to unnatural sexual desires.

The second hypothesis is that this term derives from the Spanish flojo which means “flabby” and in this case it is obviously a little more “offensive to pious ears” because it refers to the male organ of the homosexual.

The third hypothesis is that in Italian dialects there is a phrase frociare”which means “to make faces.” So in this case we would be referring to the attitudes of those particularly effeminate homosexuals. So here we also come to what Pope Francis probably meant, that is, he meant to refer to this type of homosexual culture, that of the ostentation of homosexuality.

The fourth hypothesis, which is also the kindest towards homosexuals, is that the term derives from the Latin flos which means “flower,” indicating that homosexual people have a particular sensitivity like that of a flower.

The description of Roman forscè as a local pronunciation of français suggests that Wikipedia's entry for frocio == "German" was not from the word for "nostril", but rather was a corruption of (the local word for) "French".  If so, it would be parallel to the generalization of  French/Frankish as the source of words for "European" in the Middle East and South Asia — see "Were the French the Yankees of Medieval Europe?", 12/16/2003.

The content of the pope's complaint about the culture of seminaries reminded me of a memorable childhood experience. This happened in 1957 or 1958, when I was 10 years old. I was fishing for pickerel with a couple of friends in the  Fenton River. We came to a bend in the river where there was a nice pool, next to a sort of semi-beach, where people (including us) often went to swim. There were three young men lounging there, two of them fully dressed with clerical collars and the third stripped down to bathing trunks. One of them described meeting Cardinal Francis Spellman in New York City, and another joked (something like) "So I supposed you knelt, kissed his ring, looking up into his eyes, and said 'Francis, you bitch…'".

At the time, I had no idea what that meant, but it formed a vivid memory.

Whatever the personal predilections of those priests, Cardinal Spellman's sexual orientation and practices were apparently notorious.

Update — Apparently the pope used the same word again on Tuesday 6/11 — "Pope Francis allegedly repeats gay slur, opposes gay men in priesthood", WaPo 6/11/2024:

Major Italian media outlets — including Corriere della Sera, La Repubblica and ANSA — reported that the pope during Tuesday’s meeting also repeated the word “frociaggine,” which in the Roman Italian dialect roughly translates as “faggotness.”

Two weeks ago, a senior Vatican official confirmed to The Washington Post that the pope had used the same word in a different May 20 meeting with bishops. Eight days after that meeting, and following reports that the pope had used the slur in the Italian press, the Vatican offered a rare apology. Without confirming that the pope had used the word, the Vatican then said that “the Pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms and he apologizes to those who felt offended by the use of a term reported by others.”

Needless to say, this has been widely discussed in Italian media.



36 Comments »

  1. Jerry Packard said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 7:43 am

    Wow, Mark, thanks for the great story. ‘frociaggine’ is not one of the curses that my Florentine mother would have leveled at me.

  2. Guan Yang said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 8:20 am

    Anthony Oliveira has an excellent thread here on “frociaggine”, what it means and who uses it. https://x.com/meakoopa/status/1795509269502005361

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 8:45 am

    The bulk of the thread seems invisible if one is unwilling to subscribe to X, as I most certainly am. Are you able to expose its contents to non-subscribers, Yang ?

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 10:12 am

    Slang in general and slurs in particular are very hard to translate because the specific degree of taboo-ness and/or force ("sting" when used pejoratively) can vary so much. Simple non-sexual example: the taboo-ness of vulgar words that literally mean "feces" but are often used in extended senses varies considerably among major European languages. Does "merde" mean "shit" or merely "crap" or something else? So it's hard for me to assess this story without a sense of what other Italian words (some perhaps more polite or euphemistic than "forciaggine" and others less so) could have been used to convey the same basic point and where the word chosen falls on the range. I am reminded by free association of the Homeric catalog of slang-words-for-gay-man in Lorca's poem Oda a Walt Whitman:

    Contra vosotros siempre,
    Faeries de Norteamérica,
    Pájaros de la Habana,
    Jotos de Méjico,
    Sarasas de Cádiz,
    Ápios de Sevilla,
    Cancos de Madrid,
    Floras de Alicante,
    Adelaidas de Portugal.

    These are presented as geographical variants, and they may have at least in part been that, but I suspect that they may have differed among themselves in degree of "sting" or the extent to which they were used non-insultingly in in-group discourse etc. And in each location mentioned I tend to assume there were other lexemes that could have been used instead, with some being more polite than the one Lorca chose and some less polite.

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 10:23 am

    Oliviera's thread, however intriguing or amusing, does not seem to be rooted in a deep knowledge of the relevant subfield of Italian sociolinguistics. It rather seems like he's proposing it as a loanword to be adopted in English and giving examples of things he thinks would fall within its scope.

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 10:31 am

    JWB — « Does "merde" mean "shit" or merely "crap" or something else ? » — For me (a Briton) "shit" and "crap" are equally vulgar — if someone says "You’re talking crap" and another says "You’re talking shit", they would evoke exactly the same response. In "polite" conversation I would avoid both, using either "Scheiße" or "merde", depending on the audience. But each is associated with its own set phrases, so "you’re talking crap" is more likely than "you’re talking shit", while "I don’t give a shit" is more likely than "I don’t give a crap". "I'm just going for a shit" is as equiprobable as "I’m just going for a crap".

  7. Levantine said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 11:09 am

    Philip Taylor, I’m British too, and I think of “shit” as considerably more vulgar than “crap”. Indeed, the latter word was used in the prime-time BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers back in 1979, whereas “shit” is still considered unacceptable in UK broadcasting before the watershed (9 pm for the non-Brits here).

  8. Philip Taylor said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 11:30 am

    I respect your opinion (of course), Levantine, but I cannot find explicit guidance from the BBC regarding "shit". What the Guidelines do say (in part) is as follows :

    The strongest language, with the potential to cause most offence, includes terms such as cunt, motherfucker and fuck (which are subject to mandatory referrals to Output Controllers); others such as cocksucker and nigger are also potentially extremely offensive to audiences.

    Language that can cause moderate offence includes terms such as wanker, pussy, bastard, slag[, ] etc. Care should be taken with using such terms; they may generate complaints if used in pre-watershed programmes on television or in radio or online content and will require clear editorial justification if their use is to be supported.

    Language that can cause mild offence includes crap, knob, prat, tart etc. These terms are unlikely to cause widespread offence when set against generally accepted standards if they are used sparingly and on their own. However, they should not be used indiscriminately.

    [Source: https://downloads.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/pdfs/language.pdf%5D

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 11:47 am

    And (at the risk of pursuing the point unnecessarily), given the hypothetical utterance "I'm sorry, I don't give a shit — what you are talking is complete and utter crap", would you regard both halves as being equally offensive, or would you regard the first half as more offensive ?

  10. Bill Wiliams said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 12:15 pm

    Philip,
    Those are two different uses, shit, in your sentence, is used as an intensifier and crap is used as a descriptor, so it isn't the best for that example. Just wanted to point that out so you can work out the offensiveness effectively.

  11. Cervantes said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 12:17 pm

    The degree of offensiveness of various words is indeed very local-culture dependent, and not closely tied to their meaning, if at all. In Puerto Rico, for example, "conyo," which is a coarse term for the female genitalia and equivalent to a word in English which is considered very offensive, is a fairly mild oath on the level of "damn it." "Va al carajo," which literally means "go to the crow's nest," is fairly offensive. "Pendejo," literally "pubic hair", is what people often say when we would call someone an asshole, and that's usually how it's translated. (Actually I'm not sure there is a widespread vulgar term in Spanish that literally means anus. Maybe someone can fill me in.) So you never know.

  12. Lester said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 12:36 pm

    A sweary blog post is not complete without a citation to Strong Language, a Sweary Blog About Swearing:

    https://stronglang.wordpress.com/2024/05/29/pope-francis-said-a-rude-thing/

  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 1:09 pm

    One contributor to the StrongLang comment thread offers "poofery" as an alternative English translation, but of course that's not helpful to us AmEng speakers who only know that sort of word from Monty Python or some similarly foreign source. And it only takes a moment of reflection for me to realize that I have no reliable sense whether "poofery" would come off as stronger or milder than "faggotry" would in the mouth of a BrEng speaker. And of course the disagreement upthread between Philip Taylor and Levantine is a useful reminder that these judgments about whether lexeme A is or isn't more taboo/vulgar/impolite than roughly synonymous lexeme B will not necessarily be uniform among all members of a given speech community.

  14. Philip Taylor said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 1:19 pm

    I can't see how you reach that conclusion, Bill, with particular reference to your assertion that my "shit" is an intensifier — had I written, for example, "I don't give a f*****f shit", then the "f*****g" is an intensifier, is it not ? In which case, how does removing "f*****g" leave "shit" as the intensifier ?

  15. JimG said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 2:35 pm

    @Cervantes, a Madrileña equivalent to English "anus" , not acceptable in polite circles but widely used in non-polite speech, is . A variant, used in at least the Southern Cone of the Americas and in Spain and non-p.c., is .

    Amusingly apropos, I recall that in 1980 in Uruguay, the generals' chosen candidate for President used the slogan , prompting the opposition activistas to whitewash the ~.

  16. JimG said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 2:38 pm

    oops!

    The missing words are:
    culo
    culeado
    Candidato del Año

  17. JPL said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 4:52 pm

    In the quest for completeness, Philip, as you see it, is there any difference in usage between 'shit' and 'shite'?

  18. Levantine said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 4:56 pm

    Philip Taylor, this would seem to demonstrate that I’m not the only Brit to view “crap” as the less offensive term:

    https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/225335/offensive-language-quick-reference-guide.pdf

  19. Levantine said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 5:22 pm

    Philip Taylor, to answer your question, I would say the *sentiment* of your hypothetical utterance is likelier to cause offence to the listener than either of the two words under discussion. Indeed, even if we were to replace “crap” with something milder, the second part of the utterance would remain, to my mind at least, harsher than the first: “I'm sorry, I don't give a shit — what you are talking is complete and utter rubbish.” And no-one would suggest that “rubbish” in the abstract is as offensive as “shit”.

  20. Chips Mackinolty said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 6:23 pm

    Apropos of nothing much else, I do find myself swearing (if I've tripped on something, or banged my hand etc) in languages other than English–depending on where I am. For example "Scheiße" in English-speaking environments! Merde! when in German-speaking places. Dunno why!

  21. /df said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 6:42 pm

    As usual there is a Norman/Anglo-Saxon class angle. Shit is the full-strength AS origin word while crap/crappe is the posh Frenchy word, sanitized, as it were, by its association with the fortuitously named Mr Crapper and his gleaming porcelain toilets.

  22. Julian said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 7:23 pm

    I thought that 'crap' was named after Mr Crapper. Not so?

  23. Lazar said,

    June 8, 2024 @ 7:30 pm

    @Chips Mackinolty: I was watching a contemporary German show recently in which characters used Shit! and Scheiße! fairly interchangeably, as well as Fuck! (which seemed to lack a German equivalent).

  24. GIO said,

    June 9, 2024 @ 12:53 am

    I'm Italian. I find frocio to be very offensive, something I would never use in conversation.

    Frociaggine on the other hand is bizarre, I had never heard the term, and it sounds like a made up word like frociezza, or frociosita, or frocismo. It's almost something a comedian would use, and the fact that the pope used it makes it quite funny (to many people apparently).

    He could have just said omosessualità.

    The pope is not a native Italian speaker and he might have "invented" it on the spot, even if I see that it actually exists. Maybe that kind of suffix is more common in Spanish.

  25. Idran said,

    June 9, 2024 @ 2:30 am

    @Julian: Not so. It dates back in its current form to the mid-19th century (the earliest known appearance having been when Thomas Crapper was only 9), with antecedents dating back all the way to the 15th. It originally came from the French "crappe", or wheat chaff, and picked up the association to defecation through analogy to useless leavings over the centuries.

    I'm not sure if it actually is an example of the Norman/Saxon class split because of that, @/df; I can't seem to find any sign of it ever actually referring to defecation in French, that was something unique to English. There _is_ "crotte," but its etymology seems to be unknown from my admittedly shallow checking about?

  26. Victor Mair said,

    June 9, 2024 @ 3:43 am

    @Julian

    "Closestools, crappers, and horse buckets" (2/19/23) — with valuable bibliographical references

  27. Philip Taylor said,

    June 9, 2024 @ 4:40 am

    Levantine — « this [https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/225335/offensive-language-quick-reference-guide.pdf] would seem to demonstrate that I’m not the only Brit to view “crap” as the less offensive term » — wow, what a wonderful resource ! Who would have thought, for example, that "uppity", "bloodclaat" or "bumberclat" (plus many others) were offensive, or even that the latter two were attested at all. Quite amazing, my sincere thanks. Incidentally, it was only while reading the PDF that I discovered that the 21:00 so-called "watershed" was applicable only to television. As I never watch television, my judgement may well have been influenced by what I hear on the radio, where I am confident that "shit" can be encountered at almost any time of the day, and is attested in (for example) The Archers [Source: https://pauseliveaction.wordpress.com/2010/01/11/the-archers-the-curse-of-ambridge/%5D

  28. Mark Liberman said,

    June 9, 2024 @ 5:23 am

    @GIO: "Frociaggine on the other hand is bizarre, I had never heard the term, and it sounds like a made up word like frociezza, or frociosita, or frocismo. It's almost something a comedian would use, and the fact that the pope used it makes it quite funny (to many people apparently). […]

    The pope is not a native Italian speaker and he might have "invented" it on the spot, even if I see that it actually exists. Maybe that kind of suffix is more common in Spanish."

    That's odd, given the other evidence Out There. Could there be a regional difference? Or maybe just a difference in life experience?

    For example, this commentator has a very different take:

    Per Vannacci il termine “frociaggine” è una “parola del lessico familiare che usiamo tutti nella vita quotidiana”

    And here it is in a 1970 novel:

    There are many more recent hits in book search.

    The Wiktionary entry for -aggine links to a page with 120 "Italian terms suffixed with -aggine", which suggests that -aggine derivation from adjectives is fairly productive…

  29. AG said,

    June 9, 2024 @ 5:47 am

    So what's the story with "fennel" (finocchio) being one of the other main italian derogatory words for gay?

  30. Mark Liberman said,

    June 9, 2024 @ 6:08 am

    @AG: "So what's the story with "fennel" (finocchio) being one of the other main italian derogatory words for gay?"

    Wiktionary says

    The slang sense is of Tuscan origin and probably derives from the archaic meaning “worthless person”, although many different folk etymologies exist.

    and gives this link to a longer investigation. The key idea seems to be that fennel was local and cheap, compared to expensive spices from East Asia or wherever, and so was used to flavor cheap sausage.

  31. Cervantes said,

    June 9, 2024 @ 3:46 pm

    @JimG: Culo more broadly means what we would call the ass or the buttocks. It refers to the anus only by synechdoche. But I suppose that's as close as it gets.

  32. Gio said,

    June 11, 2024 @ 12:34 am

    @Mark, I confirm I've never heard the expression while growing up in Veneto. Never heard in movies or tv shows either.

    I see Vannucci Is from Liguria, maybe it's common over there. We do have a lot of regional expressions. Romans have a very rich slang.

    I've listened to the interview you linked to, and he's making a general point, not commenting on the exact word. He says "these are words that we all use …", it sounded a lot like the "locker room talk" defense of Donald Trump.

  33. Mark Liberman said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 5:28 am

    @Gio: "I confirm I've never heard the expression while growing up in Veneto. Never heard in movies or tv shows either."

    Again, this seems to reflect differences in personal experience and regional usage.

    This 5/28/2024 article references "tutti i dizionario concordano" and also "la giurisprudenza":

    Per quanto l'etimologia sia incerta, tutti i dizionario concordano sul fatto che il termine "frocio" abbia connotazioni offensive, un punto sui cui peraltro è d'accordo anche la giurisprudenza. In una sentenza del 2021 la Cassazione ha infatti ribadito che per la "stragrande maggioranza degli italiani" riferirsi a qualcuno definendolo "frocio", equivale ad insultarlo e non si può usare questo termine come se non avesse alcun "carattere ingiurioso". Il fatto poi che la parola incriminata – per ironia o provocazione – sia talvolta usata anche dagli stessi omosessuali non cambia le carte in tavola. Chi vuole sdoganare l'utilizzo del sostantivo "frociaggine" perché ci salverebbe dalla cultura "woke" o dal politicamente corretto prende dunque un evidente abbaglio.

    From Google Translate:

    Although the etymology is uncertain, all dictionaries agree on the fact that the term "faggot" has offensive connotations, a point on which the jurisprudence also agrees. In a 2021 ruling, the Supreme Court of Cassation in fact reiterated that for the "vast majority of Italians" referring to someone as a "faggot" is equivalent to insulting them and this term cannot be used as if it had no "insulting character". The fact that the offending word – out of irony or provocation – is also sometimes used by homosexuals themselves does not change the situation. Anyone who wants to clear the use of the noun "faggot" because it would save us from "woke" culture or political correctness is therefore clearly making a mistake.

  34. Philip Taylor said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 9:04 am

    I cannot help but feel that Google Translate is exceeding its remit when it translates frocio and frociaggine as "faggot" in this context— it may well be the case that "all [Italian] dictionaries agree on the fact that the term "frocio" has offensive connotations", but such dictionaries are highly unlikely to also agree that the term "faggot" similarly has offensive connatations, as they are unlikely to include the word at all. Google Translate clearly needs an injection of AI to help it decide which elements are to be translated and which must be left exactly as written.

  35. Pope Using Hate Speech, Again – LGBTQ Merced said,

    June 13, 2024 @ 6:51 pm

    […] frociaggine, is considered offensive, and roughly translated to "faggots" by staff at University of Pennsylvania. The pope, in both instances, was discussing with leadership his view that there are already […]

  36. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    June 14, 2024 @ 8:07 am

    It's odd that, presently in the culture, it seems that one must first ascertain (by taking the temperature of one or several "high-status" groups) whether one must / should / shouldn't / can't be offended by event x before making a calculated, intellectual decision about whether or not to be offended by x.

    This isn't what linguists "do" now, is it?

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