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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Fasce’

Here's a slightly unusual word which people in Italy have suddenly started using more.

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

You may recognise today’s word from Italian headlines or speeches by the prime minister.

Fasce is not the most commonly-heard word in Italian most of the time but it’s suddenly on everyone’s lips, as we all wait to hear which one we’re in.

It’s the plural form of fascia (pronounced fah-shah), which means a “band” or “strip”, usually of fabric or wood. It can be used when talking about bandages, or nappies.

But it can also be used to mean “zone”, “area”, or “section” and this is the sense in which government ministers have been using it.

This is of course when talking about Italy’s new tier or zone system, under which the coronavirus restrictions will vary from one region to another.

– Il paese è diviso in tre fasce

– The country is divided into three zones

– C'è una terza fascia

– There’s a third section

It’s not to be confused with the word fase (meaning “phase”, pronounced “fah-zeh”), which was also used by ministers a lot recently in relation to the changing coronavirus situation.

Nor should fascia be confused with the masculine fascio or its plural fasci – a very different thing altogether.

While it can mean “bundle” (of sticks, for example) it’s usually associated with the fascio littorio or, in Latin, the fascis, an ancient Roman weapon and a symbol of power and authority which is widely believed to be where Italy's fascist movement got its name from.

So be careful with the pronunciation – but hopefully knowing this little word will make the Italian news a little easier to follow in the coming days.

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: ‘Scarabocchio’

Can you fathom the meaning of this word?

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

If you haven’t yet found a proper Italian word to describe the unintelligible collection of dots, wonky lines and swirls that Italian doctors often nonchalantly passes off as a prescription, scarabocchio might do the trick.

Scarabocchio is the Italian equivalent of ‘scribble’ or ‘scrawl’ and it describes to any piece of writing or drawing whose meaning can’t be fathomed. 

Ho lasciato la lista della spesa sul tavolo!

Si, l’ho vista ma non ci ho capito niente. Era tutto uno scarabocchio…

I left the shopping list on the table!

Yes, I saw it but couldn’t understand any of it. It was all a scribble…

From a five-year-old’s abstract artworks to a colleague’s poor excuse for a handwritten note, you can use scarabocchio for pretty much anything – as long as it figures on a piece of paper. 

Though it is a bit of a mouthful (pronunciation available here), Italians love to use the word in daily conversations, especially so when it comes to mocking the unfortunate author of the scribble. 

Ti ho fatto uno schema per farti capire meglio.

Ma cos’e’ ‘sta cosa? Mi sembra proprio uno scarabocchio…

I’ve drawn a diagram to help you understand.

What on earth is this? It looks like a scrawl to me…

The word comes from the fusion of scarabeo (beetle) and the pejorative suffix -occhio (also used in ranocchio, meaning ‘ugly frog’, and marmocchio, meaning ‘bratty kid’). 

Though today’s scribbles may not resemble the shape of a beetle, they most likely did back in the days when poor handwriting skills would result in your quill creating circular blots of ink on the paper.

That’s why, to this day, Italians refer to scribbles as ‘ugly beetles’. 

Funnily enough, sgorbio, one of scarabocchio’s synonyms, also takes its name from an animal, namely the scorpion. But that’s a story for another time.

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

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