Italian word of the day: ‘Pastrocchio’

A fine mess you'll be in without this word.

Italian word of the day: 'Pastrocchio'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Today’s word comes courtesy of our reader Umberto Thiene, who remembers it very clearly from his childhood. 

“When my parents would not let me get away with being naughty, I would retaliate by saying ‘allora faccio un pastrocchio!’ and like the proper little sh*t that I was, would make a mess with my paints and pens and of course, I got into more trouble,” he writes.

As little Umberto’s terror tactics demonstrate, un pastrocchio (pronounced “pas-STROK-kio”) is a right old mess.

È proprio un bel pastrocchio!
It’s a real mess!

It can be literal, like the havoc he wreaked with his paintbox, or figurative, like when you’re really stumped.

Come si fa a risolvere questo pastrocchio?
How do we fix this mess?

The word is a Venetian variation of pasticcio, which gourmands will recognise as the term for ‘pie’ (it comes from the same root as pasta, ‘dough’ or ‘pastry’), but which can also mean ‘bother’, ‘trouble’ or ‘confusion’. Think of it as the equivalent of our food-related idiom ‘in a pickle’.

Non avevo intenzione di metterti nei pasticci.
I didn’t mean to put you in a pickle (literally: to put you in the pies).

You can use either version, but here’s why Umberto has a soft spot for pastrocchio: “I love the word ‘pastrocchio’ as it sounds like what it’s supposed to mean,” he says. “When it’s said with passion like Italians usually do, it can emphasise the state of the mess or stuff-up.”

Do try and stay out of trouble, folks; but if you can’t, at least now you have a good word for it.

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.