Italian expression of the day: ‘Pesce d’aprile’

There's no escape from the pranksters' favourite day of the year in Italy. Here, it just has a cuter name: 'April's fish'.

Italian expression of the day: 'Pesce d’aprile'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

While you’re right to be sceptical of everything you read at this time of year, I promise today’s Italian expression isn’t made up.

I imagined that il pesce d’aprile, or ‘April’s fish’, came from the idea of ‘baiting’ people or ‘fishing’ for responses with joke articles or announcements and seeing if they’d ‘bite’.

After all, the Italian verb abboccare means ‘to bite, or to take the bait’ and figuratively it also means ‘to be fooled, deceived, or taken in’, just like in English. It’s rooted in the word bocca, or mouth.

Ha abboccato e non ha avuto alcun sospetto!
He fell for it and had no idea!

But no. I’m told the name ‘pesce d’aprile actually comes from a common prank that involves sticking a drawing of a pesciolino (‘little fish’) onto the back of an unsuspecting victim.

Then everyone else asks if they’ve seen ‘April’s fish’ and makes jokes about that person – when, of course, the victim doesn’t know they’re ‘it’.

– L’hai visto? (Have you seen him/her?)
– Chi? (Who?)
– Il pesce d’Aprile! (April’s fish!)

It sounds a bit quaint, but taping a fish onto someone’s back is still something people – most likely children – do in Italy nowadays

Photo: Depositphotos

It’s not clear where the custom comes from: there are a few different theories, ranging from Christian traditions around eating (or avoiding) fish on certain holy days to the idea that fishermen who returned to port without a catch at this time of year might have been the object of mockery. No one knows for sure.

But if someone tries to wind you up – or tape a fish to your back – in Italy tomorrow, be prepared.

You could say:

non mi prendi in giro

You don’t fool me

Io non ci credo mica.
I don’t believe that at all.

Italy isn’t the only country to have a fishy April Fool’s Day. In France and French-speaking areas of Belgium, Switzerland and Canada, it’s the poisson d’avril.

See our complete Word of the Day archive here.

Do you have a favourite 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: ‘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.