Italian word of the day: ‘Furbo’

Are you cunning enough to learn this uniquely Italian word?

Italian word of the day: 'Furbo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Anyone who's planning to spend much time in Italy better get furbo, and fast. The word means cunning, sly or wily.

Sei furbo come una volpe.
You're as cunning as a fox.

So far, so simple. But it's Italians' relationship with la furbizia (cunningness) that gets really interesting.

While cunning usually carries negative connotations in English, being furbo is often admired in Italy – like calling someone smart or canny. Classic examples would be getting creative on your tax returns or making an imaginative insurance claim, which fans of le furberie (schemes, tricks or scams) call sticking it to the man.

Un commerciante furbo
A shrewd businessman

È abbastanza furbo da aggirare il sistema.
He's smart enough to game the system.

Si crede più furba degli altri.
She thinks she's smarter than everyone else.

“L'Italia è il paese dei più furbi.”
“Italy is a nation of schemers” – said by Beppe Grillo, co-founder of the Five Star Movement.

You can even advise someone to be more furbo…

Fatti furbo!
Wise up!/Show some sense!

… though sometimes it's smarter not to.

Non fare il furbo con me, capito?
Don't get clever with me, got it?

After all, there is such a thing as too furbo: un furbone is a smart arse or wise guy.

Good or bad, furbo is so deeply rooted in Italian culture that sometimes you don't even have to say it: the word has not one but two hand gestures associated with it.

1. Use your index finger to pull down the corner of your eye while looking meaningfully at your interlocutor.

2. Wink while moving your thumb from the corner of your eye down the side of your face. Add a clicking sound with your mouth if you're feeling really expressive.

Watch this video to see furbo in action.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

Member comments

  1. Very appropriate choice, for me–thank you. I was trying to translate “furbo” into English, for my Italian husband. He was convinced that it was comparable to “smart”, even “intelligent”…

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Italian word of the day: ‘Inciucio’

Here's a word you'll need to deal with ahead of Italy's elections.

Italian word of the day: 'Inciucio'

With two days to go until Sunday’s general election, there’s talk of a potential ’inciucio’ everywhere from the pages of newspapers to the heated conversations at sports bars up and down the country.

So what is an ‘inciucio’ and why does the word seem to be on everyone’s lips whenever Italy faces elections?

Briefly, ‘inciucio’ is political jargon that describes any type of dubious agreement or, if you will, compromise reached by two or more political parties generally holding opposite views and ideals.

There’s no direct translation into English, though a native speaker would probably refer to it as something of a dodgy backroom deal.

Non c’è una maggioranza chiara. 

Eh, figurati. Faranno il solito inciucio.

There isn’t a clear-cut majority.

Oh, that’s not new. They’ll go for the usual deal.

Such an agreement is usually necessary when forming a large coalition government, with terms largely assumed to be based on the “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” principle. 

READ ALSO: Salvini vs Meloni: Can Italy’s far-right rivals put differences aside?

With that definition in mind, it’s hard not to see why ‘inciucio’ is such a commonly-used word in Italy, a country whose political class has historically been partial to improbable alliances with their previously hated rivals. 

Cosa pensi delle prossime elezioni?

Preferisco non pensare. Ne ho avuto abbastanza di questi inciuci. 

What do you think of the next elections?

I’d rather not think. I’ve had enough of these political deals.

Purtroppo, con questa legge elettorale, l’inciucio tra partiti è l’unica via per avere un governo…

Fammi un piacere. Gli inciuci esistevano anche 60 anni fa, molto prima di questa legge elettorale.

Sadly, with the current electoral system, a compromise between different parties is the only way to form a new government.

Do me a favour. These types of agreements existed 60 years ago, well before the present electoral system.

While the noble art of the inciucio goes back a long way in the history of republican Italy, the term itself was only coined in 1995 by Massimo D’Alema, then secretary of the left-wing Democratic Party (PD). 

The expression only rose to popularity a couple of years later, when the founder of the term thought it fit to put the word to good use and reached a ‘non-aggression pact’ with the then-leaders of Italy’s right-wing coalition – the agreement went down in history as the patto della crostata or ‘pie pact’ – but we’ll keep that story for another time.

Ever since then, the term ‘inciucio’ has been regularly used by political commentators as well as the wider public to discuss the various power plays of the country’s major political forces.

For instance, the most classic of inciuci was at the foundation of Giuseppe Conte’s first cabinet back in 2018, when Matteo Salvini’s League and Luigi Di Maio’s Five-Star Movement unexpectedly found sufficient common ground to form a coalition government.

So, will we see another inciucio this time around?

Given the unpredictable nature of Italian politics, you’ll forgive us for not ruling out the possibility of another inciucio just yet.