Italian word of the day: ‘Coprifuoco’

This medieval word is back on everyone's lips in the time of Covid-19.

Italian word of the day: 'Coprifuoco'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Today's word is one you'll recognise from Italian headlines: coprifuoco, 'curfew'.

It literally means 'cover fire', from the verb coprire ('to cover') and fuoco, 'fire'.

And in fact so does our English equivalent, it's just slightly harder to see the roots. We took our word from the Old French 'couvre-feu' ('cover fire'), which mutated into 'curfew'.

All three versions refer to the same tradition: in medieval times, a bell would be rung in the evening to remind townspeople to put out the fires burning in their hearths before they went to bed, to prevent sparks catching while they slept and setting the entire neighbourhood ablaze.

The signal became known as a 'cover fire'.

In the centuries that followed, by extension, the term applied to any warning that it was time to return home and get to bed.

Until recently, most people had probably only ever received such warnings from parents.

Non vengo al pub, mia madre ha messo il coprifuoco.
I'm not coming to the pub, my mum set a curfew.

But in recent days, curfews have become official orders. At least three regions of Italy have declared coprifuochi (plural) in response to a steep rise in coronavirus infections.

In Lombardia da giovedì ci sarà il coprifuoco dalle 23 alle 5.
In Lombardy from Thursday there will be a curfew from 11pm to 5am.

Per chi dovrà uscire durante le ore di coprifuoco sarà necessaria un'autocertificazione.
Those who have to go out during curfew hours will need a self-certification form.

Just like the original version, this latest curfew isn't just for your own benefit, it's to protect your neighbours too. That's worth a few early bedtimes, isn't 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 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.