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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Bella domanda’

If you've moved to Italy, chances are you have plenty of these.

Italian expression of the day: 'Bella domanda'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you spend any time in Italy at all, you’ll soon have more than a few questions. For example:

Is that office ever open? Have these drivers got a death wish? And why, exactly, are there so many different types of spaghetti in the supermarket?

Once you start trying to make sense of everyday life here, today’s phrase is one you might start hearing more often than you’d like.

– Di che tipo di modulo ho bisogno?

– Bella domanda

– Which type of form do I need?

– Good question

Especially when it comes to bureaucracy, rules or any sort of timetable, you might find that most Italians are often as stumped as we foreigners are – though no doubt they’ll be more confident about asking the person stood next to them, or slowing down the car to shout their query at a stranger.

So don’t be surprised if people respond (or stall for time) by saying “good question”, just as we do in English.

You’ll note that bella domanda may be used rather than buona domanda, particularly when no one knows the answer.

While both are correct, there’s a slight difference in the meaning.

Bella domanda sounds as though it would translate as ‘beautiful question’, or ‘nice question’, but the adjective bella here usually means that the question is a big one – as in, a bit too much for the person you’re asking to answer.

Depending on tone and context, it might even be used to mean it’s a “hell of a question”.

– È una bella domanda, e al momento siamo piuttosto occupati

– That’s a hell of a question, and we’re a little busy right now

If they say buona domanda, they could be remarking more on the fact that your question is clever, fair, or interesting.

Very simply put, this is because the adjective buona is usually used to remark on the positive ‘internal’ qualities of someone or something, while bella is more for commenting on appearances, and as in this case, can also be used to add emphasis (much as we might use ‘nice’ in English:)

– Un bel lettone

–  A nice, big bed

(Here’s some more detail on the usage and different spellings.)

Other common Italian responses to what friends call my mille domande (thousand questions) over the years include:

dipende da chi trovi

– It depends on who you ask/meet (literally: find)

Boh! Vediamo.
– Who knows? We’ll see.

Do you have an 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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