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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Va bene’

It's alright if you don't know how to use this phrase - we've got a few tips.

Italian expression of the day: 'Va bene'

This is one of the most important phrases you'll need to know before coming to Italy. It means ‘ok’ or ‘alright’, and you’re going to hear it every five seconds.

Va bene literally translates as 'goes well' and, if things are going well, you’d use it in response to the question come va? (how’s it going?)

Just like ‘ok’, you can also use it to show that you understand what’s going on (that is, if you do.)

– il museo è stato chiuso un'ora fa

– The museum closed an hour ago

– Va bene, non fa niente

– Ok, never mind

But there are plenty of situations where you might use it. If you can imagine all the different contexts and intonations in which we could use the word ‘alright’ in English, then va bene is the Italian equivalent.

You’ll probably also hear it being shortened to “vabbè

This word can be just a shorter form of the same phrase. But in some contexts, it means “whatever”, not “ok”.

As the video below tells us, the difference is mainly about your enthusiasm for something.

If someone asks you, ‘Andiamo al cinema?’ and you respond ‘si, va bene’ it probably means you’d like to go to the cinema.

But if you respond with ‘vabbè’, you probably don’t care much about going to the cinema, but don’t have any other suggestions. You might shrug your shoulders when you say ‘vabbè’.

Just like in English though it all depends on the intonation.

A cheerful ‘vabbè’ just means ‘ok’, while I’ve seen Italians inject many layers of shade into a ‘va bene’ (when things were clearly not va bene at all.)

And sometimes it’s one of those words, like comunque, that is just inserted into conversations any time, meaning nothing much at all, as in: allora…va bene ('so then…alright’)

If things are going really well that day, you might even hear the superlative: ‘va benissimo!’

Va benissimo is one of my all-time favourite Italian phrases and I use it all the time, probably in places where it doesn’t really work. 

Ma eh, vabbè.

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

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

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.

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