For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Buonismo’

There's not much good to say about this word.

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

Have you ever been accused of being a buonista?

It may come from the word buono, but that doesn’t mean it’s a compliment. 

buonista is a do-gooder or goody-two-shoes, whose actions can be characterised as buonismo – something like ‘do-gooding’ or ‘do-good-ism’.

Ne ho abbastanza di questi buonisti.
I’ve had enough of these do-gooders.

Giovanni è un buono, non un buonista.
Giovanni’s a good man, not a goody two shoes.

Basta con questo buonismo.
Enough of this do-gooder-ism.

(Note that buonista in the singular always ends in an ‘a’ even if it’s describing a man).

goody two shoes GIF by Chelsea Handler

The word’s invention is often credited to a Professor Ernesto Galli Della Loggia, though it apparently was already in use in literary criticism at least a decade before.

Nonetheless, it does seem to have been Galli Della Loggia who brought the term into today’s political and journalistic discourse via multiple editorials he penned for the Corriere della Sera newspaper in 1995 concerning the arrival of migrants in Italy.

“Chi non vede gli immigrati. La solidarietà “buonista” del centrosinistra” (‘Those who don’t see immigrants. The ‘do-gooder’ solidarity of the centre-left’) was a line that reportedly appeared in one of the pieces (none of which can currently be found in Corriere’s online archives).

From that point on, and with increasing frequency from around 2015 onwards as the migrant crisis began to accelerate, the term was used by hard-line nativists to deride all those who opposed anti-immigration policies.

It’s essentially the Italian equivalent of ‘social justice warrior’ or (if you’re from an earlier generation) ‘bleeding heart liberal’.

In one particularly ghoulish example, the right-wing newspaper Il Giornale infamously reported on two mass drownings of migrants in the Mediterranean in 2013 and 2015 respectively as “Trecento morti di buonismo”  and “Settecento morti di buonismo” (“Three hundred/Seven hundred dead of do-gooder-ism”).

The word is a particular favourite of far-right League party leader and former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, who in the immediate aftermath of the Bataclan Paris attacks tweeted “Buonisti = complici #Parigi” (“Do-gooders = complicit #Paris).

Things reached such a fever pitch in 2017 that the anti-mafia writer Roberto Saviano wrote an article for the Repubblica newspaper in which he issued a (presumably rhetorical) call for the word to be abolished altogether.

If buonista is ever used against you as an insult, there’s no need to take it too much to heart – it’s one of those words that tends to say more about the person using it than it does anyone else.

Is there an Italian word of expression you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
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.