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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Colpo d’aria’

If you're in Italy this autumn, make sure you learn this seasonal expression – and most importantly, wear a vest.

Italian expression of the day: 'Colpo d'aria'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Autumn in Italy may have many delights, but it also brings its own particular dangers – at least according to Italians.

As the weather cools, don't be surprised if you find yourself being warned about un colpo d'aria: literally a hit or blast of air, more colloquially a draft, and in the Italian imagination the cause of everything from a stiff neck to a headache to indigestion.

The term springs from the belief that sudden changes in temperature are bad for the health, and the closest equivalent in English would be the equally vague “chill” that your grandma always warned you about.

– Mettiti una giacchetta o ti prenderai un colpo d'aria!
– Wear a jacket or you'll catch a chill!

Common ways to fall victim (prendere un colpo d'aria) might include failing to wrap up warm as soon as the temperature drops below 25 degrees Celsius, leaving the house with wet hair, opening a window while sweaty, or sitting too close to the air conditioning.

According to one Italian health site, symptoms can include: redness of the eyes, ear pain, muscle contractions and, for the especially unfortunate, un colpo di strega – literally “a strike of the witch”, it describes a back strain, to which you might be extra vulnerable if you attempt any sudden movements while dangerously chilled by air.

The vast collection of symptoms attributed to chills explains why you might hear Italians specifying which part of their body is bearing the brunt.

– Ho preso un colpo d'aria…
… all'orecchio.
… alla schiena.
… agli occhi.
… al collo.

– I caught a chill in my ear/my back/my eyes/my neck.

It's basically a way to say that you have an unexplained ache or pain – and if you don't know the exact cause, why not blame it on the air?


It looks like some Italians are becoming suspicious of whether the colpo d'aria really exists.

Cures include hot baths, camomile tea and breathing in steam. The tried and tested prevention, meanwhile, is la maglia della salute (the “health shirt”), a vest or undershirt that keeps your chest safely covered.

Fear of the colpo d'aria also explains why you'll see Italians in scarves and puffa jackets while those of us originally from cooler climates are still happily in short sleeves.

Dressing for the season, not the actual weather, is important when colpo d'aria could hit at any moment.

If you've ever felt like you read a different weather forecast to the one your Italian friends seem to have dressed for, now you know why.

Do you have an Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

This article was originally published in 2018.

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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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