Italian word of the day: ‘Colle’

Here's why you'll keep seeing this word in the Italian news this week.

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

You may already know that today’s word, colle (pronounced ‘kol-leh’), means ‘hill’ in Italian. But why are hills being discussed so much in the Italian news lately?

These reports aren’t referring to just any old hill, but to the most important of the seven hills in the capital:

i sette colli di Roma

the seven hills of Rome

Rome’s Colle Quirinale, or Quirinale hill, is where the formal residence of the Italian president sits: il Palazzo del Quirinale – the Quirinale palace

The sprawling building, for centuries home to popes and kings, has been the official residence of the head of state since the declaration of the republic in 1946.

As Italy’s parliament begins voting for a new president on Monday, the ‘Colle’ (capitalised) which we see mentioned in news reports doesn’t refer to the actual hill, or even the palace, but is used as shorthand for the office or position of president.

“The race for the presidency starts: first ballot at 3pm” – Il Sole 24 Ore, Monday January 24th.

‘All the stages to become president” – Adnkronos, Monday January 24th.

While the president’s place of work literally sits upon a hill, at election time perhaps the Italian media simply can’t resist invoking the image of an uphill race to reach the country’s highest office.

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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.


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.

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