Italian word of the day: ‘Ritocchino’

If you're trying to perfect your Italian, you'll want to take note of the little things.

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

Today's word is one that you might not expect to hear someone like Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte using.

The government keeps making little changes to its current set of coronavirus restrictions, and today they're talking about making even more.

The word Conte used to describe the next update was ritocchino (pronounced ri-tock-EE-noh, remember the “ch” is a hard sound in Italian.)

“Forse qualche ritocchino ci sarà”

– Maybe there will be a small tweak

One reason it might sound a little unusual coming from someone like the prime minister is that he used the diminutive form of the word ritocco (with the modifying suffix “-ino”)

There are quite a few different suffixes used for the diminutive in Italian, including -etto and -ello.

Diminutive forms of words are of course used to describe tiny, cute little things, such as an elefantino (baby elephant) or nasino (little nose)

Or they can change a word slightly to make the meaning nicer and sweeter.

– Mammina migliorerà ogni cosa

– Mummy will make it all better

– Un pensierino per segnare l'occasione.

– A little something (literally “little thought”) to mark the occasion

So it can be a surprise to hear some of these cutesy-sounding diminutive forms used in serious and formal situations.

Sometimes though, such words really just mean that something is small, such as in the case of a motorino (scooter, literally “small engine”).

Another reason that Conte's turn of phrase sounded a little odd is that the word ritocchini, meaning little retouches, adjustments, or tweaks made to resolve imperfections, is more often used in the context of, say, plastic surgery, when glossing over just how invasive a procedure could actually be.

In fact, such diminutives can be used as a sort of euphemism or understatement when describing something that's actually quite major. Of course, this can be hard to gauge, and it all depends on context, but you'll no doubt get a feel for it as your Italian comes along.

Who knows how much more we should read into the prime minister's words. But next time you hear someone describing something in the diminutive form, remember that it might not actually be as cute as it sounds.

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

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REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy

The northern cities of Milan and Turin were named Italy's 'smog capitals' in a new pollution report on Monday which urged the government to take action over poor air quality.

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy
Photo: Pixabay

Smog and pollution are choking Italian cities year-round and many towns are exceeding limits on fine particles and other pollution, according to another report from Italian environmental watchdog Legambiente.

The Mal’aria di città (Air pollution in the city) report for 2023, unveiled on Monday, was the latest to warn about the risks to health posed by pollution in many parts of the country.

It found that 25 of 95 cities monitored had violated clean air ordinances by exceeding daily fine particle (PM10) emission limits, which are currently set at no more than 35 days a year with a daily average of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Turin was ranked as the worst offender, exceeding this level on 90 days, closely followed by Milan (84), Asti (79), Modena (75), and Padua and Venice at 70.

These were followed by Cremona, Treviso, Mantua and Rovigo, all of which exceeded limits to a lesser degree.

All of the most polluted cities were in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, with most within the north-western ‘industrial triangle’.

Some southern cities featured nearer the bottom of the ranking, with Andria (Puglia) and Ragusa (Sicily) exceeding limits on several days, as well as Rome, which overshot the permitted level for one day.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The average annual rate of PM10 emissions nationwide dropped slightly, by two percent year-on-year, the report found.

“This, however, is not enough to guarantee the health of citizens,” said Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente.

He pointed out that the situation looked even worse if air quality in Italian cities were measured against tighter limits under the new European Directive on air quality, in force from 2030, which lowers the PM10 threshold from 35 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“Only 23 out of 96 cities (24 percent) would be under these limits,” Ciafani said, while 84 percent would exceed the threshold for PM2.5 and 61 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.

The north of Italy has long been ranked among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air according to data from the European Environment Agency.

“Air pollution is not only an environmental problem, but also a health problem of great importance,” said Ciafani. “In Europe, it’s the main cause of premature death due to environmental factors.”

“Italy has more than 52,000 deaths per year caused by PM2.5 emissions, equal to a fifth of those recorded throughout the continent,” he said.

The main causes of air pollution in Italian cities are reported to be industry, inefficient domestic heating systems, agricultural practices and, most of all, heavy traffic.

In Italy, cars continue to be by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of journeys overall are made by car, Legambiante wrote, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy’s towns and cities.

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Legambiente said “drastic” measures were required to tackle the problem, including funds for more efficient heating systems in homes and public buildings and a major increase in public transport provision.

The group said Italy must “quadruple the availability of public transit, promoting integrated season tickets as done by Germany in 2022”, triple the number of electric buses, create zero-emission zones in town centres, and “create another 16,000 kilometres of cycle paths”.

It also praised local authorities choosing to bring in 30 km/h speed limits in city centres. Councils in Bologna, Turin, Milan and Cesena have all said they plan to implement these limits, following the lead of European cities including Paris and Madrid, despite fierce criticism from Italian transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Legambiente published a petition urging the government to make clean air and more livable cities a priority, saying Italy should follow Paris in attempting to create ’15-minute cities’, in which everyone lives within a quarter of an hour’s walk of vital amenities such as shops and schools and possibly also workplaces.