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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Ma va’ là’

There's no way you haven't heard this expressive Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Ma va' là'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Ever come across something in Italy you just can't believe? In a country filled with traditions, tales and people that are sometimes (literally) incredible, the chances are that sooner or later you'll need to express your surprise – even maybe, just maybe, your scepticism.

Today's phrase can help you there: ma va' là is a way to say 'no way', 'come off it', 'pull the other one'.

It literally means 'but go there' (va' being a contraction of vai, the command form of the verb andare, 'to go') – which may not sound like much at first, until you remember that English speakers tell people we doubt to 'get out of here!' too.

– Mi hanno detto che hai vinto al lotto.
– Ma va là!
– I heard you won the lottery.
– Yeah right!

You'll also hear ma va' on its own, which is used in just the same way.

Of course, a lot depends on tone: just like 'no way' in English, ma va' là can express disbelief, denial, genuine surprise or complete lack of it.

– L'anno scorso sono andato in vacanza in Puglia.
– Ma va'! Anche io!

– Last year I went on holiday to Puglia.
– No way! Me too!

– Ho fatto una scoperta incredibile: la miglior pizza del mondo è a Napoli.
– Ma va' là… 

– I've made an incredible discovery: Naples has the best pizza in the world.
– You don't say. (Imagine saying it with an ironic eye roll.)

For more inspiration, we'll leave you with a kids' song entitled Ma Va' Là, which involves a tall tale about frogs in Vietnam going to university to learn to ribbit. Listen out for the chorus:

Ma va' là, ma va' là,
Ma dai, che storia è questa?
Ma va' là, ma va' là,
Invece, invece è la verità.

Oh come on, oh come on, 
Seriously, what's this story?
Oh come on, oh come on,
And yet, and yet it's the truth.

Today's expression was requested by one of our readers. Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

Member comments

  1. My American grandmother used to say “Oh go on!” in these circumstances, and it is in fact the exact translation!

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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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