Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Matto as a false and insigificant person

From dictionaries and pages of literature


Copyright Andrea Vitali - © All rights reserved February,4 2019


Translation from the Italian with an Appendix by Michael S. Howard, January, 26 2019



"E vissi a Roma sotto ‘l buon Augusto, / Al tempo degli Iddei falsi e bugiardi”

 (And I lived in Rome under the good Augustus, / During the time of the false and lying gods)


                                                                                            Dante, Inferno, Canto I



In what is described below we propose to clarify the apparently different meanings that identify the word “Taroco” with a false person, of nothing [da niente], of little account [di poco conto = of little significance, of little value, insignificant] and we will do it through appeal to the authority of both the dictionaries of the Italian language and those of the various regional dialects.


 On the meaning of tarocco as matto, folle, sciocco in their meaning of cretino, idiota [cretin, i.e. imbecile or stupid person, idiot], we have written in several of our essays (1). What we want to highlight is in particular the identity of the meaning of “falso, da niente, da nulla e di poco conto” [false, of nothing, of null, and of little account] with the word matto and thus with the word tarocco.


Falso derives from the Latin falsus meaning "untrue, corrupted, counterfeit" (2). For the false relationship = matto we have repeatedly written that in the Italian tradition we have, for example, the expression matto oro to define false gold (3). But just as we have matto gold in the Italian language, so are there other words expressing the meaning of matto as false, for example casamatta. deriving, according to the Vocabulario Treccani (4) "from casa matta, or false house (16th century)", that is, "a building that has the appearance of a house, and it is quite another thing". The same applies to the Garzanti Linguistica which reports: "Etymology: from 'casa matto' in the meaning of 'false house'” (5).


The attributions of “not true, corrupted, counterfeit” are well suited to the meanings of matto gold and casamatta. as both are not true, but corrupted, compared to the original value, in practice counterfeit.


In the Neapolitan and Tuscan Domestic Dictionary we have Falzo and Fauzo = Falso = Not true, counterfeit [Non vero, contraffatto] (6).


 In the dictionary of the Bergamo dialect the term Mat is described in its meaning: "Card that enters the game of tarocco and cuccu [cuckoo]. It also is “False” but also “Stravagante, bizzarro, balzano, pazzo, strano” [Extravagamt. bizarre, odd, crazy, strange] and more (7).


With transposition to the figure of the matto or folle, this has all the attributes listed above in the sense that it is a person who is not true, who is corrupted, counterfeited with respect to the nature of a man able to understand and reason, as tarato [defective – see Appendix] in the brain, corrupted in that, by the counterfeit reason that leads him to be unreliable, altered, inconsistent, as the Italian vocabularies make explicit.


In the Bolognese dialect we have farlocco for false, lying [bugiardo, also = easily deceived], naive, phony and by extension, false object, taroccato [see Appendix], of little value (8). It should also be remembered that in Piedmont the form ferloch possessed the meaning of "chiacchierone [chatterbox or gossip], ciarlone [one who speaks uselessly, prater] ... speaks a lot and without foundation" as pazzi obviously speak (9).


Hence the expressions di poco conto ["of little account"] and da niente [“of nothing"] attributed to this category of people, in practice of no value, as was matto gold, but also silver and any other word united to the attribute of matto, in addition to casamatta, the latter understood as dwelling.


But in the category of matti are again included those people who even if knowledgable [savie] are not considered able to understand beyond their own interests. We have an example, among all, in Dante’s Divine Comedy where he writes (10):


Tu proverai sì come sa di sale

lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle

lo scendere e 'l salir per l'altrui scale.          60


E quel che più ti graverà le spalle,

sarà la compagnia malvagia e scempia

con la qual tu cadrai in questa valle;            63


che tutta ingrata, tutta matta ed empia

si farà contr’ a te; ma, poco appresso,

ella, non tu, n’avrà rossa la tempia.             66


(And you will know how salty is the taste

of others’ bread, how hard the road that takes

you down and up the stairs of others’ homes.


But what will weigh you down the most will be

the despicable, senseless company

whom you shall have to bear in that sad vale;


and all ungrateful, all completely mad

and vicious, they shall turn on you, but soon

their cheeks, not yours, will have to blush from shame)


Here, by gente matti, is not meant people who are physiologically incapable of reasoning, but on the contrary people of a certain intelligence who are not able to understand the high value of things and people, limited in their reasoning, aimed only at personal interest. These were the people with a 'malvagio, scempio, impio’ [despicable, senseless, vicious] spirit, angry with Dante because they think the poet had betrayed them (11).


Deepening the meaning of empio, one of its meanings is that of a person contrary to religion or to morality, who for the church of the time were considered matti. In fact, saying that, we cannot forget the religious teaching of the time, which considered as matti all those who led a life dedicated to the negation of the virtues (12).


“Chi non fa conto delle ricchezze spirituali è un gran pazzo. Chi non si cura delle gioie [donate dal Cristo] è un gran stolto. Chi non fa conto dell’oro, e delle gemme, è un gran matto. O pazzi, ò stolti, ò matti dunque più di tutti matti; stolti, e pazzi, poi che non fate conto delle vere ricchezze, gioie, gemme, & oro così pregiato e così fino. Tù vedi, figliuolo, quanto è matto questo mondo. Quanto sono sciocchi gli uomini mondani” (13).


("Whoever does not take into account spiritual riches is a great pazzo [crazy person]. Whoever does not care about the joys [given by Christ] is a great stolto [stupid person]. Who does not take into account gold, and gems, is a great matto. O pazzi, o stolti, o matti, so most of all matti: stolti, and pazzi, then you do not take into account the real riches, joys, gems, & gold so precious and so fine. You see, son, how matto this world is. How worldly men are sciocchi [foolish]").


In short, we repeat, they were men of poco conto [no significance], of nothing, who did not understand, who did not reason, from which is the attribute addressed to them as matti.


Matti are again, in the Italian linguistic tradition, according to the concept of the incapacity to reason, people who are deceived, cheated, as are in reality the real matti from the psychological point of view, easy prey to treacherous reasoning people:


“tu dirai, io havea data tal buono consiglio al tale, il quale se ne ha fatto beffe, & mi truffa, & beffa dietro, come s’io fussi matto” (you will say, I gave such good advice to the man, who scoffed at it, and caused me injury, and mocked me, as if I were matto) (14). Hence the meaning of gonzo, naive person, person who is easy to cheat or rob (15) 


A sentence taken from a morality text of the eighteenth century, which compares the attitude of a Prince with that of any gentleman, puts the meaning of matto on the same level with that of little brains and no value:


“Gran differenza è tra la vita del Principe grande e d’un Signore ordinario: perche il primo stando ritirato nel suo Palazzo, crede il popolo, che sia occupato nell’amministrazione del Regno, e cresce con ciò il rispetto in lui, quantunque stia ozioso e viva male. Ma il Signor ordinario, che sta ritirato, è tenuto per matto, o almen di poco cervello, e di niun valore” (16).


("There is a great difference between the life of the great Prince and that of an ordinary Lord: because the first, having withdrawn into his palace, the people believe, is occupied in the administration of the Kingdom, and thus respect to him grows, although he is idle and lives badly. But the ordinary Lord, being withdrawn, is considered matto, or at least of little brain, and of no value").


People of poco conto, who are considered to be such, as we have observed, that our literature has identified in some passages as “Re/Regine da Tarocchi” [“King/Queen of Tarocchi”]. As for the expression 'Re da Tarocchi', we refer to our essay of the same name (17); here is a passage from a 19th century novel about Queen Isabella II of Spain:




Isabella kneeling in her Oratory; half asleep, she meditates. sighing.


“Don Carlos!... Don Miquel ... Oh! chi è morto è morto.... Ma don Juan è vivo? Madonna Santa! Eran due, ed or son tre.... No, che non è così: eravamo in tre, io qui a Madrid, Robertino a Parma e il mio povero Cecchino a Napoli, ed ora non ci son che io. Ma questa è una tragedia francese! Ed io non sono più buona a nulla pe' miei parenti borboneschi! Oh rabbia, son proprio una regina da Tarocco io!” (18).


("Don Carlos! ... Don Miquel ... Oh! Who has died is dead ...But Don Juan is alive? Holy Madonna! There were two, and now three .... No, that is not so: there were three of us, me here in Madrid, Robertino in Parma and my poor Cecchino in Naples, and now there is only me. But this is a French tragedy! And I am no longer good for anything for my Bourbon relatives! Oh anger, I am indeed a queen of Tarocco!")


What we have written will probably be difficult to understand by non-Italian speakers; it would be necessary for these to have studied Italian philology to understand every nuance of our language. Certainly an English, French or German-speaking person will struggle to identify the term “false” or “of little account” with a word that also means “crazy” or “insane”. The same is true for our word tarocco, with the sense of insane, frenzied, irrationally angry, foolish, stupid, doltish, false, of little value, of nothing, of no value – all expressed as well by the single word matto.


In this regard we report the meaning of the word tarocco, including its variant tarocc, as stated by Dictionaries of Italian dialects:


Vocabulario Piacentino Italiano [Dictionary of Piacenza dialect of Italian] (19):


Tarocc = Mincion = babbeo, babbione, ignocco (nincompoop, blockhead, person without intelligence)


Mincion cmè la lüina [Mincion like the moon] = could not put three balls together in a basin = said for those who do not know how to do things more easily.


Vocabolario Milanese Italiano [Dictionary of Milanese-Ialiano] (20):


Tarlamm is equivalent to Tarocco = great fool [scioccone]




1 - See in this regard the essay Tarocco sta per Matto [currently in Italian only] with reference to the individual essays of interest.

2 - Giuseppe Manuzzi, Vocabolario della Lingua Italiana già compilato dagli Accademici della Crusca, Tomo primo, Parte Seconda [Dictionary of the Italian Language already compiled by the Academicians of the Crusca, Volume One, Part Two], In Florence, printed by David Passigli and Associates, MDCCCXXXVI [1836], Word Falso, p. 1250.

Antonio Lissoni, Frasologia Italiana, Ridotta in Dizionario Grammaticale e delle Italiane Eleganze, Rifatta da capo…colla giunta di molte lezioni le quali dopo sapute le regole della grammatica e conosciuto il valore delle parole insegnino agli studiosi di entrar nello spirito della lingua affine di usarla sia ne’ suoi sensi naturali sia ne’ suoi traslati con proprietà di voci e con buon gusto ed eleganza, Seconda Edizione [Italian Phrases, Reduced into Dictionary of Grammar and of Italian Elegance, Rebuilt from the beginning ... with the juncture of many lessons which after knowing the rules of grammar and knowing the value of words teach scholars to enter the spirit of the language similar to using it both in its natural senses and in its translations with properties of words and with good taste and elegance, Second Edition], Milan, Printing by Pogliani, MDCCCXXXVI [1836], p. 406.

3 - See the essay The meaning of the word Tarocco.

4 -, Vocabulario online, Word Casamatta

5 - Garzanti Linguistica, Online, Word Casamatta.

6 - Basilio Puoti, Vocabolario Domestico Napoletano e Toscano [Neapolitan and Tuscan Domestic Vocabulary], Naples, Libreria e Tipografia Simoniana [Simoniana Bookstore and Printing], 1841, p. 156.

7 - Antonio Tiraboschi, Vocabolario dei dialetti bergamaschi antichi e moderni, Bergamo [Dictionary of ancient and modern Bergamo dialects], Bergamo, Fratelli Bolis Tipografia Editrice [Bolis Brothers Publishing House], 1873, p. 782.

8 - Bologna Blog University, online, Tutte le parole che un non bolognese deve conoscere con la lettera ‘F’, Prima Parte [All the words that a non-Bolognese must know with the letter 'F', Part One], word Farlocco.

See also: the Italian online dictionary Sapere, online, word Farlocco

9 - See Sapere, op. cit.

10 - Paradiso, Canto XVII. Translation from Mark Musa, Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, Volume 5, Paradise, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 2004, pp-165-167).

11 - These verses, in the Heaven of Mars, speak of the White Guelphs, with whom Dante had participated in two assaults against the Black Guelphs who had conquered Florence. Dante had cautioned them to wait until the spring of 1304 for a third attack. They did, but the poet separated himself from the company. His former friends attacked Florence in the summer of 1305 but were defeated. Apparently they accused Dante by claiming he was in league with the blacks.

12 - See the iconological essay The Madman (the Fool)

13 - Father Bartolomeo da Saluthio, L’Innamorato di Giesù [The Lover of Jesus], Rome, printed by Bartolomeo Zannetti, 1614, pp. 114-115.

14 - Battista da Crema [The author's name at page A7r], Opera utilissima, della cognitione, et vittoria di se stesso [Very useful work of cognition, and victory over oneself], Printed in Venice for Bartholomeo, called l'Imperadore, & Francesco his son-in-law, 1548, Libro Quinto [Book Five], Della Cognitione et Vittoria dell’Ira [Of the Cognitione and Victory over Anger], p. 98.

15 - See Sapere, op. cit.

16 - Scelta d’alcuni Avvertimenti Morali finora inediti di Monsignor Cesare Speziano già Vescovo di Cremona [Choice of some previously unpublished Moral Warnings of Monsignor Cesare Speziano formerly Bishop of Cremona], in Ludovico Antonio Muratori, La Filosofia Morale esposta, e proposta a i giovani [Moral Philosophy exhibited, and proposed to young people], Naples, Printing House of Carlo Cirillo, MDCCLIV [1754], p. 16 of the "Choice of some warnings" at the end of the book.

17 - Read the essay A King of Tarochi - 1584

18 - La Cicala Politica [The Political Cicada {also meaning “Chatterbox”}], Year II, No. 10, Milan, Sunday, February 3, 1861.

19 - Lorenzo Foresti, Piacentino-Italiano Vocabulario [Piacenza dialect - Italian Dictionary], Piacenza, Fratelli Del Majno Tipografi [Majno Brothers, Typographers], 1836, pp. 183 -184.

20 - Giuseppe Banfi, Vocabolario Milanese - Italiano ad uso della Gioventù [Milanese-Italian Dictionary to the use of Young People], Milan, presso [at] la Libreria di Educazione diAndrea Ubicini, 1857, p. 736.



By Michael S. Howard


This is an extension of the essay concerning two words familiar to Italians but confusing for foreigners. They occur in the text just before note 8, “taraccato” in the same paragraph and “tarato” in the paragraph preceding. The dictionary links are mostly provided by Andrea. I have simply translated the entries.


On tarato, we have, translating from


“tarato adj. [Der. from tara; in meaning based on the example of the French. taré]. - 1. Of the person who has some tara, who suffers from anomalies or hereditary diseases; by extension, of a morally unhealthy person. 2. In the language of insurance risk t., A risk that is accepted by an insurance company only following a medical examination from which it can be inferred if it is a more or less improbable risk, in order to evaluate the opportunity to accept him for a life insurance policy. For adjectival use of tarato as past participle of tarare (calibrate), see that word”.


Then for tara (corresponding to the English “tare” in its primary sense) has quite a bit to say. Here it is the third meaning that is most relevant. The Arabic tarh in the original has a dot under it, indicating that it is a hard “h”, almost like the “ch” in “Bach”:


tara s. f. [from the Arabic tarh «deduction»; in sign. 3, based on the example of fr. tare]. - 1. a. How much must be deducted from the gross weight of a commodity to have the net weight: often it is the weight of the packaging, sometimes it is the weight of the impurities, of the foreign substances that accompany a product (as for the beets or potatoes that are brought to the processing plants dirty with earth, mixed with leaves, stones, etc.). We distinguish: t. effective (or real or net), when the actual weighing of the packaging is carried out before the packaging or after the goods are removed; t. legal, that whose measure is fixed by law; t. natural, that which takes into account the conventional reduction of weight for certain goods (animals, game, etc.) in order to determine the net weight to which the price refers; t. conventional or presumed, when the weight of the packaging is attributed by convention, without the need to proceed with its actual ascertainment; t. written (or of origin), when it is determined by the first seller and printed on the packaging, remaining firm in all subsequent resales; t. (for) goods, when the tara, in the sale, is not deducted but is charged to the buyer as if it were merchandise. b. Set of small objects of various kinds (bolts, screws, etc.) which, in the weighing method called the method of t. of substitution, it is placed on the scale plate to balance the weight of the body to be weighed and which is then compared to the sample mass. c. ant. The sum deducted from an account; discount, deduction. 2. fig. Doing t., Diminish the assertions of others, when they appear exaggerated, so as to reduce them to the right proportions: among polite people, we know how to t. to the compliments (Manzoni); it is news, or data, which cannot be received without doing the t. 3. fig. Disease, anomaly or hereditary deformation, or other defect that however compromises the physical or psychological integrity of an individual (in the use pop. Magagna): t. hereditary; It seems healthy, but it has or is some tara”


Under “synonyms” there is a short version:


“s. f. [dal fr. tare "defect", from the Arabic tarh "deduction"]. - 1. a. hereditary illness, physical or psychic anomaly of an individual and similar.] ≈ (pop.) magagna. Defect, imperfection, problem. b. (fig.) [moral imperfection] ≈ [→ TACCA (3. b).


Another website is As past participle, it is similar to the first meaning in the long version of treccani. As an adjective, it has: “One who is affected by a hereditary disease: a tarato person, organism t A tarato is that || Which, who has some magagna  || Which, who is abnormal: you are just t.”


Then for magagna,


“Defect, imperfection in a person's body: its flaws are due to age

|| Imperfection of an object: a marble full of flaws; good fruit, but with some m.

|| estens. A man full of flaws, of ailments


2 fig. Moral defect, vice: They see the flaws of others, but not their own faults that one wants to hide: “under there are some m.


Treccani, to be expected, has more to say, of which I excerpt the part, after defects in things and animals, says of humans


magagna s. f. [Der. of magagnare]. - 1. ... in people, physical imperfection: m. of a critical age, who tried in vain to hide with belletti and massages (Pea); or illness of health, illness, spec. if hidden: one m. internal; we must resign ourselves to the ailments and the m. of late age; he seems to enjoy excellent health, and instead has his flaws. 2. In a more abstract sense, spec. to the plural, defect or moral or constitutional flaw, both of individual persons and of a society: to reveal one's own m, to discover the m. others; nobody is without some m .; m. of a political class or of a social system; different men of all customs and full of every magagna (Dante); that new virtue was nothing but hypocrisy added to the ancient magagne (Manzoni)”.


So there is a wide range, including behavior that is odd and not just moral or physical flaws, but also psychological.


Now for taroccato, which appeared in the definition of farlocco,


“farlocco 1. ill-equipped, easily deceived, distracted individual

2. (by extension) false object, taroccato, in any case of little value”


The online dictionary Sapere also has an entry for “taroccato”,


“Synonyms: false (adj.), falsified (adj.), counterfeit (adj.)”


There is also


taroccato adj. [Part. pass. to tarot, in the sign. 1 b], sl. - Falsified, counterfeited: goods t .; a purse t .; by extens., a fake prize, contest.

A sidebar has the addition: “[that was made or obtained by manipulation and falsification: a taroccato necklace was saddled on you]”.


Then for taroccare,


“[Der. from tarocco1; in sign. 2, perhaps with the influence of altercation] (I taròcco, you taròcchi, etc.; as intr., Aux. have). - 1 a. intr. Answer with a tarot, in the game. b. tr., gerg. by extens., Falsify, counterfeit: t. a cell phone, a watch, a purse. 2 Intr. Grumbling, complaining in an angry tone, with insulting or vulgar words; arguing, bickering: Go, go, do not try to tarroccare (Goldoni)”.


It is not made clear how “falsify” is an extension of “responding with a tarocco in the game”. 


For “tarocco1,” describes the cards used in the game, but with a “by extension” followed immediately by “2. extens., Slur. Fraud, counterfeiting and sim., And also the counterfeit goods themselves: they have stuck you with a tarocco”.


Apparently it is thought by some that the meaning “falsification” comes from the game. As reported in a Dec. 2014 article by Vera Gheno, put online by the Crusca Academy at, machine-translated by Google Translate at The author thinks that this sense of “tarocco” may be 20th century (“GRADIT indicates 1987 for the first attestation”), and derive from underworld slang connected to the game’s dubious reputation, or perhaps of card games in general, due to cheating.