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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Azzurro’

Why is blue Italy's favourite colour?

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

The national flag may be red, white and green, but for today at least, Italy has turned a different shade: azzurro, or ‘blue’, the colour of the triumphant Italian football team’s jerseys.

Click below to hear azzurro pronounced:

READ ALSO: ‘You need to eat more pasta’: The most Italian reactions to Italy’s Euro 2020 win

In fact, ‘blue’ doesn’t really do the word justice. It refers to a specific shade of deep, bright blue – ‘azure’, if you want to get specific. 

Both the Italian word and its English equivalent come from Sanskrit via Persian via Arabic, which gave European languages their word for a particular type of blue stone mined in what is now northern Afghanistan: lāzaward, which we know as ‘lapis lazuli’. 

You can see the same root in the Spanish word azul and the French azur

All of them refer to a particular type of blue: as the Italian dictionary defines it, rather poetically, “the colour of a clear sky (in between sky blue, which is lighter, and blue or deep blue, which is darker)”.

That all sounds better in Italian, which has an impressive number of words for one colour: from celeste (‘sky blue’ or ‘powder blue’) to ciano (‘cyan’ or ‘cornflower blue’) to turchino (‘deep blue’) to plain old blu (‘blue’).

Rather than trying to describe exactly which shade azzurro corresponds to, we’ll just show you a picture of the kit worn by Italy’s Azzurri – ‘the Blues’, as the national football team is known.

Here they are winning a certain trophy last night.

Photo by Catherine Ivill / POOL / AFP

In fact it’s not just footballers: almost every sportsperson who represents Italy wears blue. The custom dates back to the pre-World War Two days when Italy was still a monarchy ruled by the royal House of Savoy, whose traditional colour was azzurro Savoia, ‘Savoy blue‘.

Indeed, those of aristocratic descent are said to have sangue azzurro in their veins – just like we call people ‘blue-blooded’ in English.

These noble origins probably explain why blue is also the colour of the fairytale character Prince Charming, who Italians call il Principe Azzurro

‘Prince Blue’ is typically the hero who rides in on a white horse to save the day. Though as fans of gli Azzurri will be well aware after those penalties, not every hero wears blue.

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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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.

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