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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Alla mano’

Here's a phrase that's worth keeping handy.

Italian expression of the day: 'Alla mano'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

You probably already know the word mano (‘hand’). You may even know the phrase man mano (‘little by little’). And if you’re a grammar pro you’ll also know that despite the ~o at the end, the noun is actually feminine (la manole mani). 

Click below to hear mano pronounced:

Of the many phrases the word features in, one of the most useful is alla mano: literally, ‘to hand’. 

You can use it exactly the same way we would in English, to say that something is close by and ready to use, either literally or figuratively.

Sono arrivata all’aeroporto con le valigie pronte, il biglietto alla mano.
I arrived at the airport with my suitcases ready, ticket in hand.

Bisogna parlare con i fatti alla mano.
We should speak with facts at the ready.

But you can apply the phrase to people as well as things, in which case it means something different: ‘affable’ or ‘easygoing’. 

Se hai bisogno di aiuto, puoi chiedere a Alessio. È un tipo molto alla mano.
If you need any help, you can ask Alessio. He’s a very affable guy. 

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the phrase suggests someone is ‘under the thumb’: it doesn’t mean they’re submissive or malleable, just that they’re approachable, down-to-earth and ready to help. In other words, just the kind of person you want to have on hand.

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

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For members

ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare una filippica’

When your best Italian mate is giving you an earful for being a couple of minutes late, tell him to quit the ‘philippic’.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare una filippica’

As far as idioms go, fare una filippica is one of the most popular ones used in Italian television and print media. Presenters and journalists use it every day as a way to give colour and panache to their reports.

But what is a filippica (literally, ‘philippic’ in English) and, above all, what does it mean to make one?

In Italian, the word filippica is generally used to describe a very impassioned invective: a tongue-lashing, if you will, aimed at a political adversary or any other opponent.

So fare una filippica means having a go at someone, and in a rather ferocious and hostile way.

Let’s have a look at some examples:

Il capo dell’opposizione ha fatto una filippica contro l’immobilità del governo nei confronti delle famiglie a basso reddito.

The head of the opposition harshly criticised the government’s inertia towards low-income families.

Or:

L’allenatore ha fatto una filippica contro i tifosi della squadra ospite per il loro comportamento sugli spalti.

The coach condemned the away side’s fans for their behaviour on the stands.

As you can see, on most occasions, the expression is followed by contro (‘against’) plus the person or people the invective is directed at. 

As previously mentioned, the expression is widely used in broadcast and print media. However, it is also frequently used in colloquial Italian as a way to mock someone who is being overly dramatic or getting unreasonably upset about trivial matters.

For instance:

Sei sempre in ritardo. Sei insopportabile.
Sono solo due minuti. Non farmi una filippica…

You’re always late. You’re insufferable.
It’s just a couple of minutes. Don’t you dare have a go at me…

So, now that you have a basic grasp of how (and when) to use the idiom, you may also be interested in knowing where it comes from. 

Like most Italian idioms, fare una filippica originated in the classical age.

Notably the expression dates back to 351 BC, when the independence of Athens, the richest and most technologically advanced city-state in ancient Greece, was being threatened by the expansionist designs of Philip II, king of Macedon.

Being conscious of the risks Macedon posed to his city’s autonomy, Athenian intellectual and statesman Demosthenes famously gave a number of fervid political speeches aimed at rallying his fellow citizens against Philip II and calling for a mobilisation of Athens’ military forces.

Such orations, whose eloquence and rhetoric are admired to this very day, were known as ‘philippics’ (‘filippiche’ in Italian), hence the very peculiar expression which, through the centuries, has made it all the way into modern Italian.

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

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