Italian word of the day: ‘Cronaca’

This word is (literally) bad news.

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

Cronaca is one of those Italian words that doesn't translate cleanly into English.

Without the help of The Local, you'd probably have to move to Italy and absorb its meaning through osmosis, as one-word dictionary definitions of 'news', 'narrative', or 'chronicle' don't really cover it.

Cronaca is a word you'll come across frequently in newspapers and on TV news channels, and is most often used to refer to stories about crimes ranging from murders and kidnappings to corruption and mafia activity.

If you look for it, you'll see that almost every Italian news site and newspaper has a section given over to cronache (the plural of cronaca).

A journalist who reports mainly on these sorts of stories can call themselves a cronista, which sounds much cooler than being an ordinary giornalista.

A cronista working late into the night. Photo: stokkete/Depositphotos

But the uses of cronaca extend beyond crime stories.

News about deaths resulting from natural disasters or other accidents would also fall into this category.

During the Morandi bridge disaster last August, most news reports covering the tragedy were filed under cronaca.

An Italian friend studying for a journalism masters in Rome thought cronaca would best be translated as 'hard news', but it's not quite that either.

A report on Italy's negotiations with the EU over its latest budget proposals would be considered hard news, but it wouldn't typically count as a cronaca.

In the absence of a more scientific definition, I've come to think of a cronaca as a 'black tale' or 'dark news'.

How a cronaca looks in my imagination. Photo: OlenaKucher/Depositphotos

Any story which your grandparent would shake their head at and describe as a 'bad business' is probably a cronaca.

It essentially refers to any news that is fundamentally and objectively bad or is about bad actors.

Sometimes to highlight that the story is particularly dark it's called a cronaca nera, appending the Italian word for black, which really does translate (approximately) as a 'black story'.

If that all seems too dark for a cold winter's day, a more lighthearted spin on the word is available.

A cronaca rosa (literally 'a pink tale' or 'pink news') is gossip or tabloid news.

When you surreptitiously google your favourite celebrity while waiting for the bus, you'll probably end up reading a cronaca rosa.

So there it is. The next time you browse your favourite Italian news site, keep an eye out for a cronaca.

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


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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.