Brace yourselves for this one, because it’s a doozie!
I have recently learned that ‘a buffo’ has two very distinct meanings. Like all Roman teenagers, I always used this phrase to mean ‘randomly,’ or more precisely, ‘without reason.’ For example:
-‘Anche se ho visto il sole prima di uscire da casa stamattina, mi sono messa il piumino a buffo.’ – Even though I saw the sun this morning before I left my the house, I put on my down jacket, for no reason.
-‘Il mio iPod si è bloccato a buffo.’ – My iPod randomly crashed.
The original use of this phrase however, has nothing to do with the widely-used expression explained above. If you’re talking to a Roman language stickler, they will tell you that a buffo means free/gratis, or without paying. However, it is not really used in this sense anymore. This is where it gets a bit complicated, so bear with me.
A buffo is dervied from the phrase, a ufo, which derives from the latin phrase, A.U.F, or ad usum fabricae. You mean you don’t understand Latin?! Well ad usum fabricae means: transported materials that were used in the construction of various cathedrals in Italy (like the Duomo in Milan, and Saint Peter’s in Rome). Taking into account where these materials (stamped with an AUF), were headed, and their holy purpose, they generally traveled for free, gratis: without having to pay tolls. A.U.F. then naturally transformed into a ufo, a phrase meaning, ‘without pay,’ (without the best of connotations, as you can imagine.)
-‘Conosco tanti a Roma che prendono i mezzi a ufo‘ – I know lots of people in Rome who take public transportation without paying.
-‘Sono andata a un bel ristorante e ho mangiato a ufo.’ – I went to a nice restaurant and I ate without paying.
Related to this second meaning of a buffo (but really a ufo) is ‘buffi‘ or the Roman word for debts. ‘Sono pieno di buffi.’ – I have a ton of debt.
No matter which way you use this phrase, it is most definitely Roman, meaning a dead giveaway to where you learned Italian. So, I hope you found today’s daily dose of vocab as interesting as I did!
(A special thanks to my Italian mentors, Claudio and Filippo for their help on this post!)