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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Paura’

It's scary how versatile this word can be.

Italian word of the day: 'Paura'

On Halloween – or rather All Souls' Day – la paura is a topical word to add to your vocabulary: it means fear or fright.

In Italian you aren't frightened, you 'have fear' (avere paura). You'll also see and hear this phrase as aver paura, minus the final 'e': it means the same thing, it just trips off the tongue a bit more smoothly.

Ho paura dei ragni.
I'm scared of spiders.

Non aver paura.
Don't be afraid.

And you don't frighten someone else, you 'do' or 'put' fear to them (fare/mettere paura a qualcuno).

Mi hai fatto paura!
You scared me!

Volevo solo mettere paura a papà.
I only wanted to scare Dad.

There are all sorts of things you can be frightened of, whether they're really scary (pauroso) or not.

Like causing offence or disappointment, for instance, which polite Italian speakers – just like their anglophone counterparts – sometimes soften by saying “I'm afraid so”.

Ho paura di sì/no.
I'm afraid so/not.

You can also reassure someone else by telling them “no fears” (niente paura), or as we would say in English, “no worries”. 

Niente paura, ci penso io.
No worries, I'll take care of it.

Tutto a posto, niente paura.
Everything's fine, don't worry.

And like in English again – old-fashioned English at least! – calling something “frightful” (da far paura – again, the verb fare drops its 'e') doesn't necessarily mean it's scary: you might just be trying to stress your point.

È magro da far paura.
He's frightfully (i.e. very) thin.

Piove da far paura.
It's raining frightfully (it's pouring).

In fact, frightful can even be a good thing. In Italian slang, especially in Rome, calling something da paura is a compliment: it means “so good it's scary”. Those of us who remember the '90s might translate it as “wicked” or “sick”, but then we'd really be showing our age.

Avevo uno skateboard da paura…
I used to have a sick skateboard…

Ad Halloween facciamo una festa da paura.
For Halloween let's throw one hell of a party.


(Try this one out and see if you get any compliments – or groans – for the pun.)


 
Do you have an Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.
 
This article was originally publshed in 2019

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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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