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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