SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Rompicapo’

This word needn't be a headache.

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

Learning another language is often enough to make your brain hurt, so you might be glad to hear that Italian has a word for just that: rompicapo, literally ‘head-breaker’. (Click here to hear it pronounced.)

It’s composed of the verb rompere (‘to break’) together with the noun capo (‘head’), and it’s a way to say that something is a real ‘puzzle’ or ‘conundrum’. 

Trovare una soluzione a questa faccenda è un bel rompicapo.
Solving this matter is a real conundrum.

If you’re talking about the kind of puzzle you actually want to do, rompicapo can mean ‘brain-teaser’ – a test or game where being tricky is the whole point.

But if it’s something that’s less welcome, un rompicapo is more like ‘a headache’.  

Questo lavoro è un vero rompicapo.
This job is a right headache.

Non voglio rompicapi.
I don’t want any hassles. 

You can equally apply it to the person who causes you such brain pain.

Il figlio è diventato per lui un rompicapo.
His son has become a headache for him.

You can also use the word grattacapo (literally ‘head-scraper’, from capo + grattare, ‘to scratch, scrape or grind’) as a synonym for ‘hassle’ or ‘worry’. 

Procura continui grattacapi ai suoi genitori.
She is always causing worries for her parents.

But don’t confuse a rompicapo with a rompiscatole (literally, ‘box-breaker’), which is something – or someone – that really gets on your nerves. In other words, a pain in the neck rather than the head. 

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

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Inciucio’

Here's a word you'll need to deal with ahead of Italy's elections.

Italian word of the day: 'Inciucio'

With two days to go until Sunday’s general election, there’s talk of a potential ’inciucio’ everywhere from the pages of newspapers to the heated conversations at sports bars up and down the country.

So what is an ‘inciucio’ and why does the word seem to be on everyone’s lips whenever Italy faces elections?

Briefly, ‘inciucio’ is political jargon that describes any type of dubious agreement or, if you will, compromise reached by two or more political parties generally holding opposite views and ideals.

There’s no direct translation into English, though a native speaker would probably refer to it as something of a dodgy backroom deal.

Non c’è una maggioranza chiara. 

Eh, figurati. Faranno il solito inciucio.

There isn’t a clear-cut majority.

Oh, that’s not new. They’ll go for the usual deal.

Such an agreement is usually necessary when forming a large coalition government, with terms largely assumed to be based on the “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” principle. 

READ ALSO: Salvini vs Meloni: Can Italy’s far-right rivals put differences aside?

With that definition in mind, it’s hard not to see why ‘inciucio’ is such a commonly-used word in Italy, a country whose political class has historically been partial to improbable alliances with their previously hated rivals. 

Cosa pensi delle prossime elezioni?

Preferisco non pensare. Ne ho avuto abbastanza di questi inciuci. 

What do you think of the next elections?

I’d rather not think. I’ve had enough of these political deals.

Purtroppo, con questa legge elettorale, l’inciucio tra partiti è l’unica via per avere un governo…

Fammi un piacere. Gli inciuci esistevano anche 60 anni fa, molto prima di questa legge elettorale.

Sadly, with the current electoral system, a compromise between different parties is the only way to form a new government.

Do me a favour. These types of agreements existed 60 years ago, well before the present electoral system.

While the noble art of the inciucio goes back a long way in the history of republican Italy, the term itself was only coined in 1995 by Massimo D’Alema, then secretary of the left-wing Democratic Party (PD). 

The expression only rose to popularity a couple of years later, when the founder of the term thought it fit to put the word to good use and reached a ‘non-aggression pact’ with the then-leaders of Italy’s right-wing coalition – the agreement went down in history as the patto della crostata or ‘pie pact’ – but we’ll keep that story for another time.

Ever since then, the term ‘inciucio’ has been regularly used by political commentators as well as the wider public to discuss the various power plays of the country’s major political forces.

For instance, the most classic of inciuci was at the foundation of Giuseppe Conte’s first cabinet back in 2018, when Matteo Salvini’s League and Luigi Di Maio’s Five-Star Movement unexpectedly found sufficient common ground to form a coalition government.

So, will we see another inciucio this time around?

Given the unpredictable nature of Italian politics, you’ll forgive us for not ruling out the possibility of another inciucio just yet.

SHOW COMMENTS