Italian word of the day: ‘Quadro’

Do you know all the possible uses for this seemingly simple word?

Italian word of the day: 'Quadro'
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There are lots of different situations in which we might hear the word quadro.

Any Italian beginner can guess that this word has something to do with the number four, or something with four sides. That thing would, of course, be a square.

– Un quadro ha quattro lati uguali

– A square has four equal sides

But then, the word quadrato also means “a square.”

– Disegniamo un quadrato nel centro del foglio

– Let's draw a square in the middle of the page.

Sometimes the words quadro and quadrato can be interchangeable, both as nouns and as adjectives, which can be slightly confusing. Which should you use?

It depends what you're talking about.

As any house-hunter in Italy will know, it's common to see either metri quadri or metri quadrati, which both mean “square metres.” This is often abbreviated to mq.

With kilometres though it's more common to see chilometri quadrati than chilometri quadri, although both mean “square kilometres”

– Si sviluppava il castello su una superficie di undici mila metri quadri.
– The castle was built over an area of eleven thousand square metres.

So what's the difference? Basically, quadrato can only be used to talk about the shape, while quadro can mean other things, too.

Un quadro can be “a painting,” and it doesn't matter whether the canvas is actually square, rectangular, or something else.

– I quadri sono belli

– The paintings are beautiful

At the theatre, un quadro is “a scene”.

– Turandot, atto terzo, quadro primo

– Turandot, third act, scene one.
Another common translation for quadro is “framework”, and this can be taken to mean any sort of control panel, dashboard, electrical switchboard, fuse box, or even your car's ignition.

– Ci sono ancora le chiavi attaccate al quadro.
– The keys are still in the ignition.

As an adjective, a quadri describes things with squares on them.

– tovaglia a quadri

– checkered tablecloth

Figuratively, quadro can also be used to describe someone. For example:

– Ha le spalle quadre

– He has broad shoulders

And also in a more insulting way:

– Che testa quadra!

– What a blockhead!

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

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Italian expression of the day: ‘Farla franca’

You won't get away with neglecting to learn this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Farla franca'

If you like Italian detective or murder mystery novels, sooner or later you’re bound to encounter the phrase farla franca: to get away with something.

Con Poirot alle calcagna, l’assassino non riuscirà mai a farla franca.
With Poirot on the scent, the killer will never get away with it.

Pensavi davvero di potermi derubare e farla franca?
You really thought you could steal from me and get away with it?

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According to the Treccani dictionary, the expression comes from the bureaucratic use of the adjective franco to mean ‘free’, describing either people that are exempt from carrying out their duties (like off-duty naval officers) or goods that are exempt from tariffs and duties.

One of the first recorded uses of farla franca as a phrase comes from the early 14th century.

The Florentine historian Giovanni Villani wrote that in June 1322, the city of Florence celebrated the Feast of San Giovanni with a big fair, ‘la quale feciono franca’ for non-citizens – in other words, foreign merchants who came didn’t have to pay the usual taxes.

By the mid-1800s, the expression to mean escaping from some illicit act or risky endeavour without having to pay a penalty. In English (if you were being old-fashioned) you might talk in the same way about someone ‘getting off scot free’.

The la in farla franca is the part of the phrase that stands in for the ‘it’. It doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to fare but can go somewhere else, as long as it’s there.

Non possiamo permettere che la faccia franca.
We can’t let him get away with this.

Pensa di poterla fare franca.
She thinks she can get away with it.

With this phrase now in your repertoire, there’s no telling what you’ll get away with.

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