What is the origin of the word "ricchione"?

by Francesco Li Volti

The word "ricchione”Is part of that large set of derogatory nouns towards homosexuals, used above all in the South. In Italian, unfortunately, there are many variations: fennel, fagot, recchia. That's the term ricchione is of southern origin, is beyond any doubt. But where does this word come from? How come you think the word ricchione have Neapolitan roots?

With big curly ears

To explain the etymology of the term ricchione we must go back toViceregal era (1516-1734): in fact it is known that many Neapolitan words derive from small modifications of foreign words, teasing or idioms, which have followed one another over time and have come down to the present day.

The fact that Naples has experienced several periods of foreign domination, has meant that our dialect took possession of terms deriving from Spanish or French, for example.

The viceregal centuries were distinguished by the myth of Conquistadores: many Spanish ships docked in Naples returning from South America. The sailors who were on board had had to deal with the Inca tribes, famous for their funny habits and customs, including the large earrings hanging from the lobes.

The use of earrings in Naples was not yet in vogue, but it was typical of women; also there was the belief that sailors who had faced long sea voyages to conquer the New world, they would have to satisfy their sexual needs in some way. And you know, there were no women aboard the caravels.

Another possibility is that the word ricchione derives from Orejòn, which translated into Italian means "big ear"; the Inca tribes had their ears dilated because of the big ones piercing that fit their lobes.

It was custom among the conquistadors Spaniards tell stories and legends typical of the culture Inca, like the one that the nobles of the South American tribes used to be emasculated as children to avoid any type of temptation, in order to exercise power without any pressure.

These powerful men wore large earrings that enlarged their lobes remarkably and one of their magical practices was to sprinkle gold dust over their ears; at the end of the ritual, to remove this dust from the ears, they tapped the fingers on the pavilions and the lobes to expel the gold colored powder.

Perhaps it could derive from this custom, told by the Spanish sailors, the ignorant act of moving the ear, to refer to a homosexual.

A further explanation lay in the fact that the epidemic mumps, commonly called "mumps“, Could be a cause of infertility in men. The medicine of that period did not allow a sure recovery.

However, there are other versions that want the term ricchione have roots Venetian: the theory that could derive from the word "Recion", used to indicate the slave who was required to give himself to the prisoners inside the cells and whose arrival was announced by a bell that carried, look a bit, in the ear, is not to be underestimated.

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