Today’s word is tosto (toh-stoh), which comes from the Latin tostus, the past participle of the verb torrere, or “to dry out,” “to toast.”
We started using tosto sometimes in the 13th century, but not with the meaning we, today, associate it with the most. In fact, back then tosto was an adverb that meant “soon,” and also an adjective that meant “quick.” Used in this sense, you’ll find it often in Dante, but also in many other poets of our past, from the Renaissance to the early 19th century. Today, however, you won’t encounter anyone saying something like sarò tosto da te (I’ll be at yours soon”), because it’d sound quite funny.
But tosto, in times past, also meant “hard,” as in pane tosto (“stale bread”), or carne tosta (“tough meat”), and it is with this meaning we are more likely to use it today, but not in the same context. Indeed, we don’t use tosto to say something is tough or stale anymore, rather we apply the adjective to people! When we say quella ragazza è una tosta (“that girl is a tough cookie”), we appreciate her resilience, strength and, perhaps, we even feel a bit intimidated by her. Sometimes, you may come across someone saying something like bisogna essere tosti per studiare medicina (“one must be determined to study medicine”), a familiar way to state you need some strength and determination to become a doctor!
Tosto can also be associated to things, especially with difficult situations or tasks: mi hanno detto che la verifica di Italiano è tosta, dobbiamo studiare di più (“I heard the Italian test is hard: we have to study more”), or andare a cena con la tua ex e il suo nuovo partner? Tosta come situazione (“Having dinner with your ex and her current boyfriend? That’s pretty rough”).
But remember: when you use tosto for a person, it always has a positive connotation: it means you appreciate their strength and you can often translate it with “cool.”
- Il nostro prof di Italiano è tosto, però aiuta chi si impegna
- Our Italian teacher is demanding, but he helps those who work hard
- Devi essere uno tosto per fare il poliziotto
- You must be pretty strong to become a policeman
- Sei proprio una tosta!
- You’re really cool!