Italian word of the day: ‘Arzigogolare’

We'll get right to the point, but this word won't.

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

Today's word was suggested by a reader, who describes it as “exquisitely Rococo, in both form and substance”.

Indeed: minimalist, arzigogolare ain't. Let's start with the pronunciation of all six – count 'em, six – of its syllables: “ar-tsi-go-go-lar-eh”.

It means, as one dictionary charmingly defines it, 'to build castles in the air'. Or to put it more simply, 'to invent' or 'dream up'.

Chissà che cosa stai arzigogolando.
Who knows what you're dreaming up.

While that might sound pleasant enough, the implication is usually that you're going off on a tangent, making things needlessly complicated, plucking things out of the air.

One theory goes that the word comes from the Ancient Greek archaiologeo, meaning to talk about old things or times past – in other words, to not get straight to the point.

Spiegati senza arzigogolare.
Explain what you mean without making it too complicated.

If you arzigogolare su qualcosa, you're quibbling or arguing about it in an overly complex way.

Smettila di arzigogolare su queste cose!
Stop quibbling over these things!

As an adjective, arzigogolato means 'convoluted', 'contrived' or 'tortuous'. 

La sua prosa arzigogolata è piena di svolazzi, ma non non rivela né originalità né profondità di pensiero.
His convoluted prose is full of flourishes, but displays neither originality nor depth of thinking.

In other words, arzigogolare probably isn't something you want to be accused of doing. And with that in mind… I'll stop myself here.

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 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.