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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Diciamo’

Let's just say you'll want to know this word.

Italian word of the day: 'Diciamo'
Photo: DepositPhotos

There are times you can’t give an exact answer. And then there are times you just don’t want to.

In either case, diciamo is a great word to know. 

Click here to hear it pronounced.

It’s the verb dire (‘to say’) in the first-person plural: ‘we say’. 

Perché in italiano diciamo “all’una” e non “all’otto”?
In Italian why do we say “all’una” and not “all’otto”?

That’s diciamo in its most straightforward form. But what we’re more interested in here is the way the word can be used as an instruction or an invitation: ‘say’ or ‘let’s say’.

In English, we often use that phrase at the start of a sentence to mean ‘suppose that…’ or ‘imagine…’ – to introduce a hypothetical situation. But in Italian, you’re more likely to hear that translated as poniamo che… (from porre, ‘to suppose’). And it should have the subjunctive after it.

Poniamo che il fiume straripi: sarà necessario evacuare le case vicine?
Say the river floods: will it be necessary to evacuate the nearby houses?

Diciamo, on the other hand, is essentially a way to indicate that what you’re telling someone is a bit vague. And the good news is it can go on its own practically anywhere in your sentence – no che, no subjunctive.

Maybe you’re making a suggestion…

Posso chiamarti, diciamo questo sabato?
Can I call you, say, this Saturday?

… or you don’t know the exact answer…

Questa scatola pesa, diciamo, dieci chili.
This box weighs around ten kilos, say.

… or you don’t want to spell it out.

Diciamo che l’ho saputo dal tal dei tali.
Let’s just say I heard it from you-know-who.

(NB: note that even though this last example uses che, there’s no subjunctive. That’s because what follows isn’t hypothetical or imagined: you’re saying you did hear it from you-know-who, not ‘what if I heard from them’.)

You can also use diciamo solo che… (‘let’s just say that…’) and diciamo così (‘shall we say’, ‘so to speak’) when you really want to imply that you’re not saying everything there is to be said.

Diciamo solo che ti tengo d’occhio.
Let’s just say I’m keeping my eye on you.

La mia risposta non è stata appropriata, diciamo così, rispetto alle domande.
My answer was not appropriate, shall we say, with regards to the questions.

In fact, sometimes just saying diciamo makes it clear you don’t really want to say anything at all.

Babbo Natale: “Sei stato buono quest’anno?”
Bambino: “Diciamo…”

Father Christmas: “Have you been good this year?”
Child: “Well…”

But you shouldn’t always read that much into diciamo. Often it’s just a filler word said without thinking, even multiple times in the same sentence. Let’s just say: you can say it anytime.

See our complete Word of the Day archive here. Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

This article was originally published in 2019.

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For members

ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

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.

Or:

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.

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

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