Italian expression of the day: ‘Male che vada’

What's the worst that can happen if you know this phrase?

Italian expression of the day: 'Male che vada'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

No one likes to spend too much time thinking about just how bad things might get, especially these days. 

But today's phrase is for when you can't help facing up to the worst-case scenario: male che vada, 'however badly it goes'. (If you don't recognise vada, that's because it's the subjunctive of the verb andare, 'to go', which gives the phrase a hypothetical feel: it's like saying 'however badly it may go').

It's not as negative as it sounds, however. The closest equivalents in English are probably the expressions 'if the worst comes to the worst' or 'worst-case scenario', which you typically use to present some kind of contingency plan.

Ti andrebbe di andare a fare una passeggiata?
– Ma il meteo dice che pioverà…
Dai, usciamo lo stesso! Male che vada andiamo al bar a prendere un caffè.

– Do you fancy going for a walk?
– But the forecast says it's going to rain…
– Come on, let's go anyway! Worst-case scenario, we'll go to the bar and get a coffee.

In other words, even if things go wrong you know what you'll do about it.

Sometimes male che vada is, in fact, downright optimistic. It can be the equivalent of 'at worst' or 'at the very least', something you say to indicate that even the worst-case scenario really isn't that bad.

Male che vada, questo tirocinio arricchirà il mio curriculum.
At the very least, this internship will add to my CV.

Cosa aspetti a chiederle di uscire? Male che vada ti dice di no e per te non cambierà nulla.
What are you waiting for to ask her out? At worst she'll say no and it won't change anything for you.

So try saying male che vada next time you want to reassure someone (including yourself) that however bad things go, you'll deal with it. What's the worst that can happen?

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 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.