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Italian word of the day: ‘Scioglilingua’

Can you get your tongue around this Italian word?

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

In Italian, scioglilingua (click here to hear it pronounced) is an autological word – that is, one that describes itself.

It means ‘tongue twister’, and with that gli sound that doesn’t exist in English, it’s not the easiest word to say.

Lingua is the Italian for ‘tongue’ (which can also mean ‘language’), and the verb sciogliere can mean to loosen, untie or release, so a scioglilingua is literally a ‘tongue loosener’.

È un vero scioglilingua.
It’s a real tongue twister.

Questo acronimo mi sembra uno scioglilingua.
This acronym seems like a mouthful to me.

There’s just as wide a range of tongue twisters available in Italian as there are in English. If you want to test yourself (this is an especially good one for those trying to get their tongue around gli), try:

Sul tagliere l’aglio taglia: non tagliare la tovaglia. La tovaglia non è aglio: se la tagli fai uno sbaglio.

(‘On the chopping board, cut the garlic; don’t cut the tablecloth. The tablecloth isn’t garlic; if you cut it you’ve messed up’).

You can find some other tongue twisters for practicing your rapid-fire Italian here.

You might see the words sciogliere and lingua used in combination in other contexts, none of which involve tongue twisters.

To deliberately sciogliere your own lingua can mean to loosen or ‘untie’ your tongue so that you speak fluently and with confidence.

The La Stampa newspaper, for example, suggests 7 trucchi per sciogliere la lingua durante l’esame orale – seven tricks to loosen your tongue during your oral exam.

Mi si scoglie la lingua quando sono con lei.
I become a smooth talker when I’m with her.

To sciogliere la lingua accidentally, however, can mean to let something slip out that perhaps shouldn’t have.

Il vino gli ha fatto sciogliere la lingua.
The wine loosened his tongue.

È stato il tipo di cena che scioglie la lingua.
It was the kind of dinner that loosens the tongue.

And if you sciogliere someone else’s lingua, that means you’re forcing them to reveal something to you, perhaps against their will.

Conosco diversi modi per fargli sciogliere la lingua.
I know a few ways to make them talk.

Una settimana al freddo ti ha sciolto la lingua?
Did a week out in the cold loosen your tongue?

So here’s your challenge for this week: see if you can get make your way round some Italian tongue twisters while still knowing when to hold your tongue.

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.

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For members


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.