Italian word of the day: ‘Schifo’

Don't turn up your nose at this amazingly expressive Italian word.

Italian word of the day: 'Schifo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Never let an Italian food purist catch you ordering an after-dinner cappuccino: “Ma che schifo,” they’re liable to mutter under their breath.

Schifo is how you say ‘disgust’, which is exactly what you’ll provoke in most Italians by drinking milky coffee after noon. It comes from an early Germanic word that meant ‘to frighten’ – the same that gave us the English word ‘eschew’. 

In Italian it’s most commonly used as an exclamation…

Che schifo!
How disgusting! Gross! Yuck!

… but you can also declare something uno schifo (literally, ‘a thing that disgusts’).

Non andate in questa pizzeria, è uno schifo!
Don’t go to that pizzeria, it’s disgusting!

It doesn’t even have to be gross: uno schifo can also just be something particularly bad or poor. 

La nostra squadra era uno schifo.
Our team was a disgrace.

Questo libro è uno schifo.
This book sucks.

Alternatively, you can call something schifoso (disgusting), judge it una schifezza (a disgusting thing), or say that it fa schifo (disgusts you). 

un insetto schifoso
a gross insect

I ragni mi fanno schifo.
Spiders gross me out.

Mangiano un sacco di schifezze.
They eat a load of rubbish.

Less commonly, you might hear the verb schifare (to disgust).

Il suo comportamento mi ha schifato.
Her behaviour disgusted me.

Try saying it out loud and you’ll see why schifo is such a great word: to make the hard “ski” sound it starts with you have to draw your lips back into a sort of sneer – you can’t help but look as disgusted as you sound.

Italians who crossed the Atlantic just couldn’t give schifo up: they’re believed to have given American English the word skeevy (gross or repulsive), a direct cousin of the Italian term.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, skeevy first appeared in New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia and other areas of the United States with a large population of Italian immigrants, who must have said schifo often enough that even non-Italians started saying it, too.

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

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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.