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Italian word of the day: ‘Rompiscatole’

Don't go breaking my... boxes?

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

I can guarantee you’ve encountered a few rompiscatole in your time.

Maybe it’s the person who insists on paying by cheque at the front of a lengthy supermarket line. It could be the bureaucrat at town hall who decided they’d like four copies of each document today, please, even though yesterday they said just one would do.

Or perhaps it’s the bank manager who insists that all forms must be signed in person, even when you’re on the other side of the country. In a heatwave. During a strike.

What such charming folk have in common is that all of them, as Italians would put it, bust your boxes.

Yes, that is a euphemism. Rompere le scatole a qualcuno (‘to break someone’s boxes’) is a polite way of saying that they bust a certain tender part of the male anatomy, i.e. they get on your nerves or they’re a real pain in the… er… neck.

Questa storia mi ha proprio rotto le scatole!
This business really got my goat!

Someone who performs said action, then, is a rompiscatole (pronounced “rom-pee-ska-toh-leh”): a ‘nuisance’, ‘pest’ or ‘pain in the neck’.

È un vero rompiscatole.
He’s a real nuisance.

Note that as a compound noun rompiscatole is invariable: its ending doesn’t change whether you’re talking about one ‘box-breaker’ or several, male or female.

Liberami da quella rompiscatole!
Will someone get rid of this pain in the neck…!

I rompiscatole non sono ben accetti in questa casa.
Pests aren’t welcome in this house.

If you’re looking for the ruder version, meanwhile, you’ve got a whole assortment to choose from: rompicoglioni, rompipalle, spaccamaroni… They all mean, literally, ‘ball-breaker’. Use with caution. 

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

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For members


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.