Italian Language Blog

Gli Spauracchi Posted by on Jan 12, 2011 in Culture

Most of us, when we were children, had our own spauracchi. Often they lived under the bed or down in the cellar. Mine used to hang out in a dark corner of the landing that I had to pass whenever I needed to go to the bathroom during the night.

Every culture has its spauracchi (scary monsters), some are fairly ubiquitous, and others less common. Here are a few that inhabit the Italian peninsular. Let’s begin with those that are known all over the country:

Il Babau è probabilmente lo spauracchio per eccellenza (the ‘Babau’ is probably the number one scary monster). It hasn’t got a defined form or characteristic, but its name recalls the barking of a dog: "bau bau". "Se non smetti di piangere chiamo il Babau" (If you don’t stop crying I’ll call the Babau) it’s a typical sentence that a parent might say to a child.

L’Uomo Nero is a black ghost or a dark hooded menacing figure which takes away naughty disobedient children, especially those who don’t want to go to bed: "Se entro cinque minuti non sei a letto, arriva l’Uomo Nero e ti porta via!" (If you are not in bed in five minutes, l’Uomo Nero will come and take you away!)

Il Lupo Cattivo (the Big Bad Wolf) and l’Orco (the Ogre) both like to eat children. They hide behind doors and in places where children are not meant to go: "Stai attento che lì dentro c’è il Lupo Cattivo!" (Be careful because the Big Bad Wolf is in there!)

There are many regional variations on spauracchi, some of which are used to scare children away from specific dangers such as forests, deep wells, and excessive heat. Here are some of them:

Mazarol, from Belluno (Veneto), is dressed in red, has a long beard, and lives in forests. He kidnaps naughty children by hiding them underneath his long cape.

La Scabodda, from Viareggio (Tuscany), is a sort of witch that takes away Christmas presents from naughty children.

Lu Lauru, from Puglia, is un folletto dispettoso (a mischievous elf) who sits on the chests of sleeping children.

La Manu Longa, also from Puglia, is a clawed hand that grabs children and drags them down into wells.

Sa Mamma ‘e Funtana, from Sardinia, lives in wells and marshes, and kidnaps children that get too close to such dangerous places.

Sa Mamma ‘e su Sole, also from Sardinia, is an old woman who takes away children that stay outside the house in the hottest hours of the day.

If anyone would like to tell us about their own personal, or local spauracchi, please leave a comment below.

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  1. Edoardo:

    il “pombero” in Paraguay e noreste di Argentina, é nascosto nel buio delle alberi e mangia i bambini.
    nei stessi luogh, iI “yasí yaterè” é il simile del “Lu Lauru” in Publia, .

  2. Vince:

    Salve Serena:

    It seems strange but I can think of only one spauraccho and that is the boogie man. Parents said, “Do this or the boogie man will get you”. There was even a movie by that title in 1942. But no one explained anything about the boogie man. I knew nothing at all about him. I never saw a drawing of him. I don’t even know if he was human or a demon.

    I think we may be more pragmatic in the US. Parents are more likely to say: “Do it or else”.

    Perhaps the American Indians had folk tales that featured spacuracchi. I just think the US is too young to have developed such creatures.


  3. Jeannet Mulder:

    Ciao Serena,

    Grazie per l’informazione interessante concernante gli ‘spauracchi’ nelle regione d’Italie variante per quello mi demando tempo stesso li sono anchora utilisati per i parenti adesso. For adults also we know well
    and keep it in mind the saying: ‘Fear is a bad
    adviser’, but you in your practice often have had
    to deal with not to handle kids, I can imagine…
    ‘if that will help!’………

    Nice to hear about all the stories! Thanks.


    in uso

  4. Lee:

    please excuse my poor Italian, I’m just learning.

    Salve Serena!

    Non mi ricordo troppe storie di mostri che sono stati progettati per “guidare” i bambini nelle loro azioni. Il “Boogie Man”, che Vince citato è circa l’unica che posso pensare. persone, tuttavia, ho sentito dire che il “uomo nello specchio” sarebbe allungare la mano e ti tiro in se stava lì a fissare troppo a lungo. Non conosco l’origine di questo però.
    Qualcosa su di vanità e troppo preoccuparsi di come si guarda. Grazie per la condivisione.

    I don’t remember too many stories of monsters that were designed to “guide” children in their actions. The “boogie man” that Vince mentioned is about the only one I can think of.
    However, I’ve heard people mention that the “man in the mirror” would reach out and pull you in if you stood there and stared too long.
    I don’t know the origin of this one though. Something about vanity and worrying too much about how you look.

    Thanks for sharing.
    I hope I didn’t butcher the translation too much

  5. Yvonne:

    Ooh, those are so scary. I’ll be good.

  6. Vince:

    Salve Serena:

    Could spauracchi be other Italians?

    I am taking an Italian History class, “From Late Antiquity to the Reunification,” and the teacher said there is a saying in Italy:

    “Better a death in the house than a Pisan at the door.”

    Would you tell children that if they did not behave the Pisans would get them?


  7. Anna Cytowicz:

    To Serena: Hello Serena! I need/wanted to thank you for your articles! These are very helpful 🙂 All these differences between italian words with alike meaning. I am a beginner but it’s good to learn from what you wrote (too)
    Regards 🙂

    • Serena:

      @Anna Cytowicz Salve Anna, e benvenuta nel mio blog.

      I’m really pleased that you are finding the blogs helpful. Do let me know if there is anything that I could write about which might help you as a beginner.

      Saluti da Serena

  8. kaveh:

    I’am agree with Anna. Your posts are excellent.

    I Suggest that put translations of daily newspapers headlines, in your blogs too.

    Thank you very much

    • Serena:

      @kaveh Salve Kaveh, Una volta ogni tanto faccio un blog basato su qualcosa d’interessante che ho trovato sul giornale. Mi sa che è ora di trovarne uno nuovo.

      Grazie per il suggerimento, Serena

  9. kaveh:


  10. andreas:

    Salve Serena
    Questo Babau rassomiglia molto al nostro russo Babai. E’ un mostro che vive nell’oscurità e acchiappa bambini.
    Da bambino sentivo spesso le storie delle mani rossa e nera che vivevano in uno scantinato e strangolavano la gente. Per entrare nello sotano, si doveva spostare un pianoforte nero che poteva suonare esso stesso.

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