“That’s crazy!” is probably one of the best translations you can get for our roba da matti (roh-bah dah maht-tee), but you can also use “unbelievable!,” “that’s unbelievable!” and, sometimes, even “I can’t believe it!”. Literally, it means “stuff for the loonies” and it’s quite usually uttered with an incredibly surprised expression on your face.
It is used in a familiar context — that is, you won’t usually see it written down in an official document — and specifically refers to something considered absurd, and usually in a negative way.
Roba da matti means what you’ve just learned or watched or heard is so unbelievable it has to be the work of a crazy person. In Italy, we use it a lot. In recent times, you’d probably hear it most often when we chat about the government, but let’s avoid politics: this should remain our happy place, only dedicated to the Italian language.
But, just to give you an idea, here’s a sample of a typical conversation you may overhear at the bar over coffee and newspaper, on every given morning these days: “Hai sentito le ultime da Montecitorio?! Roba da matti!” (Have you heard the news from Montecitorio? That’s crazy stuff!).
That’s enough of that, though. Let’s go back to our happy place, shall we?
Considering how seriously we take food, roba da matti can often appear in that context. For instance, let’s say your best friend uses cream in his carbonara, this may be your outraged answer...:“come sarebbe che metti la panna nella carbonara?! Roba da matti!” (What do you mean you use cream in carbonara? Unbelievable!).
Roba da matti is an ubiquitous expression because it can be used with so many nuances of meaning. It can show surprise, incredulity, but even disappointment, because “stuff” fit for “crazy people,” when you think about it, could be really anything.
Roba da matti, ha rubato soldi dalla cassa del bar!
It’s crazy. He stole money from the café ‘s register.
L’ha abbandonato all’altare, roba da matti!
She left him at the altar. That’s unbelievable.
Hai sentito cosa è successo? Roba da matti!
Have you heard what happened? That’s crazy.