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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Invece’

There's nothing mysterious about this common word; on the contrary, it's quite straightforward.

Italian word of the day: 'Invece'
Photo: DepositPhotos

Even if you've only just started learning Italian, the chances are you will have encountered the word ma ('but') by now. 

But (!) there's more than one way to contradict yourself or others, especially in Italian. Today's word is a commonly used alternative: invece (pronounced 'in-vetch-eh').

In its simplest sense, it too means 'but'.

Pensavo che fosse partita, invece era ancora lì.
I thought she had gone, but she was still there.

Invece can mean a few more things. Followed by di, it means 'instead of'…

Prendo un tè invece del caffè.
I'll have tea instead of coffee.

Invece di lamentarti, datti da fare!
Instead of complaining, get on with it!

… while adding che turns it into 'rather than'.

Preferirei lavorare in Italia invece che in Francia.
I'd prefer to work in Italy rather than in France.

Ho deciso di venire qui di persona, invece che parlare al telefono.
I decided to come in person, rather than speaking on the phone.

Invece also functions as 'on the contrary' or 'on the other hand', used to contrast two ideas or subjects.

Ti ho rimproverato per molte tue azioni: per questa invece ti lodo.
I've reproached you for many of your actions; for this one, on the contrary, I applaud you.

Io preferisco i romanzi, Simona invece i film.
I like novels, Simona on the other hand likes films.

It's very common to hear invece used this last way in spoken Italian: at a restaurant, for instance, a waiter might take one person's order then turn to the rest of the group and ask: “E voi, invece?” ('And as for you?')

There's one more use we seem to come across, and that is: e invece… Think of it as saying 'and yet…' and trailing off.

Mi avevi detto che mi amavi. E che saresti rimasto con me. E invece…
You told me that you loved me, and that you'd stay with me. And yet…

It serves to show – usually somewhat pointedly – that whatever you've just described wasn't quite how things turned out.

You can also add or no as necessary ('and yet it was', 'and yet it wasn't'). 

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: ‘Scarabocchio’

Can you fathom the meaning of this word?

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

If you haven’t yet found a proper Italian word to describe the unintelligible collection of dots, wonky lines and swirls that Italian doctors often nonchalantly passes off as a prescription, scarabocchio might do the trick.

Scarabocchio is the Italian equivalent of ‘scribble’ or ‘scrawl’ and it describes to any piece of writing or drawing whose meaning can’t be fathomed. 

Ho lasciato la lista della spesa sul tavolo!

Si, l’ho vista ma non ci ho capito niente. Era tutto uno scarabocchio…

I left the shopping list on the table!

Yes, I saw it but couldn’t understand any of it. It was all a scribble…

From a five-year-old’s abstract artworks to a colleague’s poor excuse for a handwritten note, you can use scarabocchio for pretty much anything – as long as it figures on a piece of paper. 

Though it is a bit of a mouthful (pronunciation available here), Italians love to use the word in daily conversations, especially so when it comes to mocking the unfortunate author of the scribble. 

Ti ho fatto uno schema per farti capire meglio.

Ma cos’e’ ‘sta cosa? Mi sembra proprio uno scarabocchio…

I’ve drawn a diagram to help you understand.

What on earth is this? It looks like a scrawl to me…

The word comes from the fusion of scarabeo (beetle) and the pejorative suffix -occhio (also used in ranocchio, meaning ‘ugly frog’, and marmocchio, meaning ‘bratty kid’). 

Though today’s scribbles may not resemble the shape of a beetle, they most likely did back in the days when poor handwriting skills would result in your quill creating circular blots of ink on the paper.

That’s why, to this day, Italians refer to scribbles as ‘ugly beetles’. 

Funnily enough, sgorbio, one of scarabocchio’s synonyms, also takes its name from an animal, namely the scorpion. But that’s a story for another time.

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

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