Italian word of the day: ‘Movida’

Today's word isn't really Italian, but here's how Italians use it.

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

Movida is a word we've been seeing in a lot of Italian newspaper headlines this week, amid all the reports of large crowds outside bars after they were allowed to reopen. 

If you thought it was a Spanish word, you'd be right. It was initially borrowed by Italians to describe the late-night partying going on across the Mediterranean in the 80s.

Dictionaries say the term movida was first coined in 1980s Spain to describe the resurgence of the country's cultural and social life after the fall of Franco's regime. In Spanish, it means “movement, happening, affair, or gathering.”

Soon after, the word was adopted by Italians and “used jokingly to describe the evening and night life of a city, with specific reference to that of the Spanish cities, known for being lively until the early hours”.

Of course, Italians aren't exactly known for their early bedtimes either, especially in summer. And today la movida has also come to describe the way people here spend warm summer nights outdoors.

The term hints at drinking and partying. But it's also used to describe any sort of gathering – usually of young people meeting up with friends at the piazza (square) or lungomare (seafront), often in large groups, maybe for a drink, a walk around town, or just to stand and chat. 

It's not the same thing as the passeggiata, the leisurely evening stroll which may or may not include stopping for an aperitivo, and which has somewhat more elegant connotations. That word is also used seriously in normal conversations, while movida usually isn't.

The word isn't unusual, and you'll be understood by Italians if you use it – but it's not one you'll hear much in everyday conversation.

It's a somewhat retro term – which Italian friends tell me is usually used ironically, perhaps by their parents, but most often by Italian newspaper editors.

So if you attempt to drop this word into your next Italian conversation, remember you'll need a big dollop of irony to go with it

Do you have a favourite 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: ‘A meno che’

You might want some help mastering this phrase, unless your Italian is already advanced.

Italian expression of the day: 'A meno che'

It’s always helpful to have a little caveat up your sleeve when making plans – just in case something crops up and you need to change course.

In English, there’s a pretty simple way to express this idea: we just use the word ‘unless’ followed by the present simple.

Italian, however, is a bit more complicated. We need to add a non after a meno che – something that can trip up anglophones – and then follow this with a subjunctive, since we’re talking about a hypothetical situation.

Potremmo andare a fare un giro in bicicletta, a meno che tu non abbia da fare?
We could go for a bike ride, unless you’re busy?

La festa si terrà all’aperto, a meno che non piova.
She’ll have the party outdoors unless it rains.

To wrap your head around this addition of a negative, it can help to think of the Italian translation less as “unless XYZ is the case” so much as something along the lines of “as long as XYZ weren’t the case.”

A meno che is the most common variant you’ll hear, but if you want to mix things up a bit, you could instead use any of salvo che, tranne che, or eccetto che.

Il rimborso sarà effettuato entro 24 ore, signora, salvo che Lei non cambi idea prima di allora.
The refund will be processed within 24 hours, madam, unless you change your mind before then.

L’intervento chirurgico non è necessario, tranne che i sintomi non causino dolore.
Surgery isn’t necessary unless the symptoms are causing you any pain.

Unless you’ve been watching TV throughout this explainer, we’re sure you’ll be confidently using a meno che and its equivalents in no time.

Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.