“Ho fatto una frittata,” I announced to our house guests in Porto Ercole, who reacted with unexpected looks of concern. “Making a frittata,” I discovered, also means to make a mess of things. Italian has a lot of ways to mess up—in and out of the kitchen.
A pasticcio refers to a casserole, such as a pasticcio di maccheroni (meat and macaroni pie), or to a pastry, such as pasticcino alla crema (cream bun). But it also can mean a hodgepodge, jumble, or mess. If you’ve really screwed up, an Italian might say with a touch of irony: "Bel pasticcio!" (That’s a fine mess!)
A pasticcione (constant bungler) always si trova nei pasticci (finds himself in a fix). That’s what happened to a pasticciere (pastry cook) caught running an illegal business in southern Italy. A newspaper reported that “il pasticciere si trova nei pasticci.”
A muddle is a different matter, more of a garbuglio, like the state I found myself in when I tried to track down a misplaced cell phone in Florence. Italian has a specific word to describe what I had done: ingarbugliarsi, or get oneself muddled. And that's enough to make one imbrogliarsi nel parlare (trip over one’s tongue or stutter).
A real mess rises above a state of confusione (fairly normal for, say, traffic in Rome) to a casino (slang for brothel) or, as I recently learned from an Italian scholar, quarantotto, or 48, a reference to the failed revolutions of 1848 in Italy.
"Non ti mettere nei guai!" (Watch out for troubles!) Italians caution, but it’s all too easy to cacciarsi nei guai (drift into difficulties) or suddenly passare un brutto guaio (meet with big trouble). Yet nothing may lead to more trouble than love. “Inguaiato!” says an Italian describing someone so smitten that he can't think for himself.
When I first heard pop idol Tiziano Ferro sing “Imbranato,” I asked Italian friends of a certain age what this slang term meant. One recalled it from his long-ago days in military service as a word for the confusion and awkwardness of “green” recruits. A member of the younger generation brought me up to date: These days imbranato also means being turned a little goofy by love. And that's a fine mess indeed!
Sayings and expressions:
un grande pasticcione – a big bungler
un lavoro pasticciato – a messy job, a bungled job
un automobilista imbranato – a wimpy driver
Mi sento imbrogliato – I feel I’ve been tricked, deceived, fooled
"Guai a te"" - "You're going to get in trouble," a classic warning from a parent to a child or teen who's pushing the limits