Italian word of the day: ‘Chissà’

Italian word of the day: 'Chissà'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
The Italian word you'll need when things simply defy explanation.

When living in Italy it’s not unusual to find yourself at a loss to explain what’s going on around you.

And when something defies explanation, chissà is the word you need.

– Cosa sta succedendo adesso?

– Boh, chissà!

– What’s happening now?

– Who knows?

When used on its own (or with a shrug of the shoulders and a boh) in response to a question, it means something like “Beats me!” or “Goodness only knows”. You can also use it like this:

– Chissà quando arriveranno?

– I wonder/who knows when they’ll arrive?

Literally, it means “who knows it”, or chi lo sa. Chissà is actually a shortened form of this phrase.

– Chissà che cos’era quel rumore

– (E) chi lo sa!

– I wondered what that noise was.

– Who knows!

Note that chissà and chi lo sa aren’t always interchangeable when used in a sentence. Chissà is often used when musing out loud, while a chi lo sa might be an actual request for information.

Compare the following two examples:

– Chissà se Maria mangia carne o no 

– I wonder if Maria eats meat or not

– Chi lo sa se Maria mangia il carne?

– Who (amongst you) knows if Maria eats meat?

A more complicated way of using chissà is when talking about someone or something being “special” – combining it with chi (who) or che cosa (what).

– Marco si crede chissà chi.

– Marco thinks a lot of himself. (Literally “Marco thinks he’s who knows who”)

– La pasta non era chissà che cosa.

– The pasta wasn’t anything special. (Literally “The quality wasn’t who knows what”)

And of course, it comes in useful when you’re faced with an unknown phrase in Italian:

– Cosa significa? Chissà!

– What does it mean? Who knows!

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