Italian word of the day: ‘Totoministri’

Italian word of the day: 'Totoministri'
Photo: DepositPhotos
Open any Italian newspaper today and you're likely to spot this word among the headlines. But what does it mean?

It doesn't have anything to do with Italian comic treasure Totò – more's the pity – but it often has elements of farce.

You'll hear the toto~ prefix whipped out whenever speculation is rife: it comes from gambling, specifically the football pools.

Named Totalizzatore calcistico ('Football Totalizator') or Totocalcio for short, it's a sort of sweep that allows players to bet on the results of several upcoming matches in exchange for a small fixed fee.


Totocalcio signs outside a newsagent's shop in Italy. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Journalists adopted the term as a catch-all phrase for making more or less informed guesses about an uncertain outcome, especially in politics and especially when you're talking about multiple outcomes at once.

That's why toto~ crops up in newspaper-speak in neologisms such as totonomine ('nomination sweep'), totopoltrone ('parliamentary seat sweep') or totocolle (literally 'hill sweep', using another piece of journalistic shorthand for the official residence of the president, which is located on Rome's Quirinal Hill – thus the term means 'president sweep').

This week, though, there's already a lot of speculation about the totoministri: or 'minister sweep' – who'll make the cabinet in Italy's new government, which may not be formed for weeks yet.

“Government crisis, from the possible premier to the minister sweep: who's in and who's out”. Headline on Sky TG24 news from February 1st, 2021.

You're unlikely to hear the term used in conversation, but it will definitely come in handy for making sense of Italian headlines between now and then.

Making sense of Italy's infamously tumultuous politics, on the other hand… we're working on it.

You can find all The Local's latest political news reports here.

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

An earlier version of this article was originally published in 2019.


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