Italian word of the day: ‘Cincischiare’

Italian word of the day: 'Cincischiare'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Don’t waste any time in learning this word.

Cincischiare (pronounced chin-chiss-kyar-ay in English) is a word that has multiple meanings in Italian, perhaps the most common of which is to loaf around, dawdle, or mess or faff about.

Sono pronta per andare alla festa ma Verdiana sta ancora cincischiando con i capelli.
I’m ready to go to the party but Verdiana’s still faffing about with her hair.

Vi prego ragazzi, non state lì a cincischiare quando c’è così tanto da fare.
Please guys, don’t stand there loafing around when there’s so much to do.

The verb can also mean to cut something in a haphazard or uneven manner, to crease or crumple something, or to generally worry or fiddle with an object.

Ha cincischiato frettolosamente la lettera e ha messo i pezzi nel cestino.
He hurriedly cut up the letter and put the pieces in the bin.

Il candidato si cincischiava ansiosamente la cravatta mentre aspettava il colloquio.
The candidate nervously fiddled with his tie as he waited for his interview.

Finally, cincischiare is to mutter or mumble, which is a nicely onomatopoeic use of the word with all its susurrating ‘s’ sounds.

Cincischiava una scusa al professore per giustificare il suo ritardo.
She mumbled an excuse at the teacher to explain her lateness.

What links all these different meanings?

Apparently the original meaning of the verb was to cut cloth or to carve wood or some other material badly, ruining it and making it useless.

This definition was later extended to include handling something clumsily and carelessly, creasing and spoiling it in the process.

From there, its meaning evolved further still to spoiling and wasting more abstract concepts like language and even time itself.

That’s a long way for one little word to come!

So don’t toy, mess around with, or otherwise waste cincischiare – see if you can get this word into a conversation this week.

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


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