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Italian word of the day: ‘Piano’

When is a piano not a piano?

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

Musicians will know that what anglophones call a ‘piano’ here in Italy is often referred to by its full name, pianoforte – literally, a soft-loud, because it can do both.

And we’ve previously talked about using piano or pian piano as an adverb to mean softly, gently, slowly, or little by little.

But did you know that the noun piano has multiple other meanings besides that of a musical instrument?

To start with, a piano can be a ‘plan’ (after a while of studying Italian you’ll notice a pattern of replacing our ‘pl’s with ‘pi’s, or vice versa – so a plaza is a piazza and a plate a piatto, etc.).

Non devono scoprire il piano.
They mustn’t uncover the plan.

The second meaning of piano you should know is ‘floor’. Not literally the floor (for that you want pavimento) but storeys in a building: a primo piano is the first floor, secondo piano the second floor, etc.

Vive al terzo piano con Lorenzo.
She lives on the third floor with Lorenzo.

Note that Italy uses European floor numbering, so the primo piano is the first floor off the ground. Ground level is piano terra – literally, ground floor.

Finally, piano has various technical meanings in the fields of photography and cinematography to denote different types of shots and framing.

A piano americano – American shot – is what is known in English as a cowboy shot. It frames the subject from the knees or mid-thigh up to their head, and is so-called because it was widely used in Westerns to make sure the cowboy’s holster got into the frame.

A cowboy shot. Source: Wikicommons.

The version you’re most likely to come across outside of a film shoot is the primo piano – in this context meaning not ‘first floor’ but ‘close up’.

I first encountered this one while teaching myself Italian by watching the comedy series Boris, about the antics of the cast and crew behind the hammy medical soap opera Gli occhi del cuore 2 (‘Eyes of the Heart 2’).

Userò gli occhi del cuore – I will use the eyes of the heart,” the theme song goes, “per capire i tuoi segreti, per capire cosa pensi, nei tuoi primi piani intensi… to learn your secrets, to learn what you’re thinking, in your intense close-ups”.

So if you’ve got a plan to take a close-up of your piano – il piano di fare un primo piano del piano – you could find yourself in for quite the sciolilingua (tonguetwister).

Do you have an 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: ‘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.