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The Italian vocabulary you’ll need to follow the presidential election

Confused by talk of 'hills' and 'blank cards' during Italy's presidential election season? The Local's vocabulary guide is here to help decipher it all.

A voter casts their ballot in Italy's parliament during the first round of voting in the presidential election.
A voter casts their ballot in Italy's parliament during the first round of voting in the presidential election. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino / POOL / AFP

Italian politics is hard to follow even for those with experience of the political system and fluency in the language. So if you’re new to the country and not a native speaker, political news reports can be truly baffling.

But when it comes to major events, such as the presidential election taking place from January 24th, it becomes more important to be able to understand what’s going on.

With the vote currently deadlocked, you’ve got time to learn a few key words and phrases. Here’s The Local’s guide to the language you’ll need to know when following the election news.


Literally meaning ‘hill’, the ‘Colle‘ (capitalised – pronounced ‘kol-leh’) that’s popped up in headlines throughout the election makes reference to one hill in particular – the one on which Italy’s presidential palace, the Quirinale, sits.

In this context, however, the Colle doesn’t refer to the actual hill itself, or even the palace, but is used as shorthand for the office or position of president.

You’ll read about the corsa al Colle (race to the presidency) or the tappe per arrivare al Colle (the stages to get to the presidency). With all the effort involved in selecting a new president, it’s perhaps no wonder that the primary metaphor employed by the media denotes an uphill struggle.

Scheda bianca

scheda bianca (‘skay-dah bee-an-kah’) – literally a ‘white card’ or ‘white ballot’ – is, as you might guess, a blank ballot. Turning one in is the simplest way for electors to spoil their ballot, which is what more than half of the voters in Italy’s presidential elections have done in the second round.

READ ALSO: Uncertainty as Italy’s presidential elections remain deadlocked after round two

A word you’ll often see crop up in conjunction with scheda bianca (or the plural schede bianche ‘skay-deh bee-an-keh’, spoiled ballots) is the verb bocciare, which in general means to reject or fail something, but in a political context means to vote down.

While an absolute majority of the voters in Italy’s presidential elections will ultimately have to reach a consensus in order for the role to be filled, in the initial stages it’s typical for the parties in Italy’s centre-left and centre-right coalitions to have their own preferred candidates, and bocciare the names put forward by the opposition.

Fumata nera

When the news outlet La Stampa wrote of a seconda fumata nera (‘second black smoke’) on Wednesday morning, it wasn’t sounding the alarm about a fire in parliament but announcing an inconclusive second round vote in the presidential elections.

Fumata nera (‘foo-mah-ta nair-ah’) refers to the black smoke released during a papal conclave to signal that no pope has yet been chosen (white smoke means the opposite).

The process by which Italy elects its presidents has been compared to a conclave, so it’s perhaps no surprise that this particular metaphor is applied here – though it can also be used to describe decisions that have yet to be taken in other political contexts, such as during a government crisis.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about Italy’s presidential elections


The prefix toto~ is used in Italy wherever speculation abounds: it comes from gambling, specifically the football pools, named Totalizzatore calcistico (‘Football Totalizator’) or Totocalcio for short.

It’s a word that’s crept into political newspeak, and is frequently used around election time by journalists making more or less informed guesses about an uncertain outcome. 

You’ll see toto~ in toto-poltrone (‘parliamentary seat sweep’), toto-ministri (‘minister sweep’, referring to who will make the cabinet in a newly elected government), or toto-colle (literally ‘hill sweep’, though as we know this really means ‘presidency sweep’).

Toto-nomi (‘toh-toh noh-mee’), or ‘name sweep’ – an adaptation of toto-nomine (‘nomination sweep’) – then, refers here to speculation about the most widely-tipped candidates for the office of president.


An ipotesi (‘eep-ott-eh-zee’) is, as you might guess, a hypothesis or theory – and when used in newspaper headlines, it fulfils a similar role to toto~, allowing journalists to speculate as to what may have happened or be about to happen.

In the context of election news you’ll usually see ipotesi followed by the last name of a potential nominee, e.g. ‘l’ipotesi Berlusconi‘ or ‘l’ipotesi Draghi‘, along with some information about the likely success of that person’s candidacy.

L’ipotesi Draghi è morta‘ – the Draghi hypothesis is dead – announced the newspaper Il Foglio on Wednesday, while Il Fatto Quotidiano opined that ‘L’ipotesi Berlusconi al Colle meritava uno sdegno maggiore dal centrosinistra‘ – the hypothesis of Berlusconi as president deserved greater disdain from the centre-left’.


Rivincita (‘ree-vin-chee-tah’) is a word with multiple meanings, even within the world of politics. Broadly it refers either to revenge, or to a rematch or a comeback (vincita is ‘win’, so it makes sense that a rivincita, or re-win, refers to getting your own back or a return to form).

Multiple Italian news outlets on Wednesday reported on the ‘rivincita del peone’ – ‘revenge of the peon’ – referring to the numerous low-ranking Italian parliamentarians who had defied their party’s wishes by spoiling their ballots.

Others speculated that the elections would present opportunities for former prime minister Giuseppe Conte and former interior minister Matteo Salvini to separately pursue their own rivincite, or comebacks, by paving the way for their return to office.

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For members


UPDATED: Some of the best podcasts for learners of Italian

Listening to podcasts is a great way to immerse yourself in a new language. For everyone from beginners to advanced learners, here's a list of audio shows that will help improve your Italian.

UPDATED: Some of the best podcasts for learners of Italian

After we published a list of top 10 podcast recommendations for Italian language students, several readers got in touch with their own suggestions.

Below you can find our updated list of the best podcasts to listen to when learning Italian, featuring additional reader recommendations. Enjoy!

For beginners to intermediate learners:

In 2022, there’s a vast range of podcasts for people wanting to learn Italian from scratch – here we’ve selected just a few.

Since beginners will often struggle to understand even slow Italian, almost all these podcasts come with a paid subscription tier that provides access to transcripts and other accompanying materials.

That said, you don’t need to pay anything to simply listen to most of these shows. Give them a try, and see what you can pick up for free.

Coffee Break Italian

The creators of this show are on to a winning format: stop native speakers of a language in the street to ask them questions on a given theme; slowly repeat their answers and translate them into English; replay the interviews so the listener can fill in the gaps they missed the first time around.

It’s a simple but highly effective technique, allowing learners to acquaint themselves with the language as spoken by real Italians while giving them the tools they need to extract meaning from strong accents and colloquial turns of phrase.

News in Slow Italian

This podcast does exactly as advertised: gives you the week’s major international news in a (very) slow Italian.

READ ALSO: Ten of the best TV shows and films to help you learn Italian

It’s good for keeping up with current events as well as learning the language. One particularly useful function of the paid tier is that it allows you to hover over certain phrases in the transcript and see the English translation.

Easy Italian News

Can’t get enough of people slowly reading the news to you in Italian? You’re in luck, because Easy Italian News is another resource that does just this.

Unlike News in Slow Italian, Easy Italian News purports to be entirely free and donation-based, so you have access to the entire transcript as you listen. New episodes every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Italiano Automatico

Alberto Arrighini has taken his highly popular Youtube channel, Impara l’Italiano con Italiano Automatico, and made each episode available to listen to via the Italiano Automatico podcast.

While those who opt to listen via the podcast will miss out on the captions and slides Arrighini provides in his Youtube videos, it’s ideal for busy listeners who want to learn on the go. 

Each episode is roughly 10 minutes long and tackles different aspects of Italian such as regional accents, conjunctions, and answers to questions like when to use essere vs stare.

Which podcasts can help you learn Italian?

Which podcasts can help you learn Italian? Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.

Quattro Stagioni

This bite-sized podcast from Alessandra Pasqui takes the form of five-minute long episodes covering everything from recipes to travel diaries from Italian cities to biographies of famous Italians.

The programme’s short length makes it perfect listening for walks to the shops or when waiting in line at the post office.

Simple Italian

Simone Pols hosts this programme for intermediate Italian speakers. It’s another basic set up: Pols takes as his starting point a theme or a recent experience and spends around 20 minutes taking about it in slowed-down Italian.

READ ALSO: Seven songs that will help you learn Italian

Recent episodes including his musings on include why it’s important to say no, the definition of beauty, and what he learned from spending six weeks in Palermo.


In Italianglot, Carmine Albanese, a Neapolitan Italian who is also a polyglot fluent in English, French, Spanish and Modern Greek, educates listeners about all aspects of Italian history and culture in his native language. We note that Italianglot promises to help you learn Italian with “minimal effort”, which sounds good to us.

The reader who wrote in to recommend this show says it’s particularly suitable for intermediate learners, but it’s worth noting that it also goes all the way up to C1/C2 level for those with more advanced Italian.

L’italiano vero

L’italiano vero, or ‘True Italian’ boasts of being “the first Italian-learning podcast that speaks to you like a real Italian”, with hosts Cubo and Paolo teaching practical Italian phrases to use in real-life situations like going shopping or having a coffee.

The person who wrote in to champion this show says “I like their senses of humour, and at the same time seriousness about teaching aspects of Italian and Italian life.”

Added extras like episode transcripts require a Patreon subscription, but with their lowest tier starting at €1 a month, you may well find it’s worth the expense.

Italiano con Amore

This podcast comes highly recommended by one reader, who says of host Eleanora Silanis, “She’s delightful and always has interesting subjects. Her diction and her accent are perfect and she speaks just slowly enough to catch every word but not so slowly that it’s tedious.”

The basic podcast is available online for free, and in addition three course levels are offered: ‘Classico’, ‘Plus +’, and ‘Portofino’. This one’s a bit more pricey than the others, but comes with a range of benefits including a workbook and live lessons for higher-tier subscribers.

For advanced learners: 

These podcasts were made for native Italian speakers, but you don’t need to be one yourself to enjoy them.

Practically non-existent until just a few years ago, the Italian podcasting industry has flourished in recent years. Whether you’re into true crime, long-form narrative journalism or science, these days there’s something for everyone.

Here are just a few well-known Italian podcasts for advanced speakers wondering where to start.


This 2017 podcast is often referred to as ‘Italy’s Serial’, both for its in-depth investigative journalism and the fact that it’s credited with introducing large swathes of the population to the concept of podcasts altogether.

The story centres around a Satanic Panic that gripped the Bassa Modenese territory in the late 1990’s, leaving huge destruction and grief in its wake.

READ ALSO: The top five free smartphone apps for learning Italian

It’s an impressive piece of longform narrative journalism that makes for uncomfortable listening in some parts and will make you burn with righteous indignation in others.

Radiografia Nera

The Radio Popolare news station didn’t exist before 1976: but what if it had? 

That’s the starting point for this podcast from Tommaso Bertelli e Matteo Liuzzi, who in each episode recount a different crime that took place in post-war Milan up until the year the station was founded, sourcing most of their facts from archived court documents and police reports.

You’ll hear plenty of stories about bank robberies and stick-up jobs, but also learn of broader historical crimes such as attempted coups.

The hosts have a rapid-fire style of delivery, so Italian learners may want to slow the podcast down or go back and listen more than once to fully grasp the whole story – but it’s good practice if you want to challenge yourself.

XXX. Photo by Siddharth Bhogra on Unsplash.


L’Internazionale‘s Annalisa Camilli has won awards for her in-depth reporting on migration to Italy, but there’s one story from her past that she always kept at arm’s length – until now.

In Limoni, which was released to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the G8 protests in Genoa, Camilli looks back at what happened at the 2001 event in which hundreds of protestors were injured and over forty unarmed people were set upon and tortured by police as they prepared to go to bed.

Camilli, who attended the protests as a young person, examines the events in light of information that has come out in the years since, bringing a new clarity to what happened and why things went so badly wrong.

Il gorilla ce l’ha piccolo

Despite its irreverent name (which translates roughly as ‘Gorillas have small d**ks’), this animal-focused podcast contains a genuine treasure trove of information about the animal kingdom.

Presented by the biologist Vincenzo Venuto, each episode takes a broad relational theme, such as families or cheating, and examines how these things play out among various animal species. In looking at how animals handle aspects of sex, birth, ageing, death and grief, Venuto gives us a greater insight into our own species.


From Jonathan Zenti, creator of the excellent (sadly only three-episode-long) English language podcast Meat, comes Problemi. In each episode Zenti talks about something he has a problem with, helped along by interjections from one of his own voice-altered alter egos.

In other hands, this might sound like a relatively dull basis for a podcast, but not in these ones. Zenti’s persona as a host is prickly and impious, but equally capable of deep compassion. His lack of interest in self-censorship and sometimes uncomfortably frank disclosures can make this mostly humorous show surprisingly painful at certain moments. It’s one of the few I’ll sometimes return to.

Demoni Urbani

Another true crime podcast here for fans of the genre. Hosted by actor Francesco Migliaccio but authored and produced by an entire creative team, Demoni Urbani (‘Urban Demons’) aims to peel back the surface to reveal the ‘heart of darkness’ beating away in various Italian metropolises.

While the first series focused solely on Italy, later episodes have gone international, narrating the stories of crimes committed as far away as Japan and the former Soviet Union. The reader who wrote to endorse this podcast recommended it for its “great true crime stories. Excellently told.”

Do you have any recommendations for an Italian podcast we haven’t mentioned here? If so, please email us with your suggestion.