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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Magari’

Hopefully you'll find yourself using this word as frequently as Italians do.

Italian word of the day: 'Magari'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Today's word is one that several readers have asked us to feature, probably because they've heard it so often: magari.

This common expression derives from a Greek word meaning blessed or happy, which is a clue to its first meaning: 'I hope so!' You can use magari to talk about things that are desired, wished or hoped for.

Magari andrà tutto bene.
Hopefully everything will be fine.

You even can use it to stress just how much you want something, usually if someone's offering it to you: it's like answering their question with 'you bet!' (NB: in our experience, you won't hear this use often.)

– Ti piacerebbe andare in Italia?
– Magari! 

– Would you like to go to Italy?
– I certainly would!

– Prendo un bicchiere di vino, ne vuoi uno?
– Magari! Grazie! 

– I'm having a glass of wine, do you want one?
– I’d love one, thanks!

Of course, some wishes are less likely to come true than others. When you're talking about something you want but that isn't really attainable, magari takes on the tone of 'if only!'

– Sei miliardario?
– Eh, magari!

– Are you a billionaire?
– Huh, if only!

– Hai vissuto sei mesi a Firenze, parli bene l'italiano?
– Magari!

– You spent six months in Florence, do you speak Italian well?
– I wish! 

Be warned: when it's used in this sense, because you're describing something hypothetical any verb that follows should really be in the imperfect subjunctive – though we guarantee you'll hear plenty of Italians who don't bother.

Magari fosse vero!
If only it were true!

Magari potessi andare anch'io.
If only I could go too.

Where it gets confusing is the fact that magari can also mean plain old 'maybe', without a particular preference either way.

Magari arriva più tardi.
Maybe he'll come later.

Saremo in tre, magari in quattro.
There'll be three of us, maybe four.

Often there's no way to tell from the sentence structure which magari you're dealing with – you just have to go by context and tone.

The dictionary lists one more possible sense to magari, though this one's less often used: it can also mean 'even if'. There are two giveaways when it's used this way: one, it will be in the middle of a sentence, joining a second idea to a first; and two, it will be followed by the imperfect subjective.

La aspetterò, magari dovessi restare qui tutta la notte.
I'll wait for her, even if I have to stay here all night.

Passerò quell'esame, magari dovessi impiegarci un anno.
I'll pass that exam, even if it takes me a year.

If that seems like a lot of meanings for one little word, well, it is. Perhaps (magari?) it's because it's so versatile that Italians use it so often.

Do you have an 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

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.

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