Italian word of the day: ‘Focolaio’

Italian word of the day: 'Focolaio'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
This topical word will help you make sense of Italy's headlines.

Many of us might never have learned the word focolaio if it weren't for the coronavirus pandemic.

The word comes from the Latin focus, meaning 'fireplace' (the same root gave Italian its word for fire, fuoco). So un focolaio is quite literally 'a hotspot'. 

In molte regioni italiane sono stati accertati negli ultimi giorni diversi nuovi focolai di coronavirus.
New coronavirus hotspots have been identified in several Italian regions in recent days.

Doctors use it figuratively to describe the main site of a disease or injury.

il focolaio infettivo
the centre of infection

il focolaio di frattura
the fracture site

By extension, it's also used for the place where something – usually bad – begins, like a 'hotbed' or 'breeding ground'.

un focolaio di rivolte
a hotbed of revolt

un focolaio di corruzione
a breeding ground for corruption

Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, focolai (plural) have made their way into Italian headlines as people hunt for details of each new flash point.

While the term really refers to a place or site, in this context it's sometimes easier to translate it as 'outbreak' or 'cluster'.

'C’è un nuovo grosso focolaio nel mantovano'
'There's a large new outbreak near Mantua' – a recent headline in Il Post.

Find out where Italy's latest focolai have been identified in this article.

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