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Italian word of the day: ‘Beccare’

The range of uses for this verb could fill a list as long as your... beak?

Italian word of the day beccare
Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Used literally, beccare just describes one thing: the action of a bird pecking at something (becco = beak).

Le galline beccavano le briciole sulla terra.
The hens pecked at the crumbs on the ground.

This literal definition is just the tip of the iceberg however, because when used metaphorically, beccare is a chameleon of a verb that can change to mean a whole plethora of things.

These include to catch, run into, meet up with, get bitten (by a bug), bicker, boo, ‘bag’ yourself something good, or get landed with something bad. Phew.

Got all that? No?

Don’t worry, we’ll look at them in turn.

One of the most common metaphorical uses of beccare is to catch or get caught, by anyone from the police to your mum:

Se la polizia ci becca di nuovo saremo nei guai.
If the police catch us again we’re in trouble.

Ho beccato il mio fidanzato con un’altra.
I caught my boyfriend with another girl.

Si è fatta beccare con le mani nel sacco.
She got caught red-handed.

Sorry Season 2 GIF by The Lonely Island

In the same vein, you can use to word to talk about getting bitten (‘caught’) by an insect or mosquito:

Una zanzara mi ha beccato la gamba.
A mosquito bit my leg.

Or running into (‘catching’) someone unexpectedly.

Ho beccato Elisa in centro, abbiamo fatto una bella chiacchierata.
I ran into Elisa in town, we had a nice chat.

Mi fa piacere che ci siamo beccati.
I’m glad we ran into one another.

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When used in the reflexive form (beccarsi), the verb can mean either to land yourself something desirable, or get stuck with something undesirable (it’s understood from context which of the situations you’re in):

Brava, ti sei beccata la fila più veloce.
Good job, you picked the fastest queue.

Vi siete beccati un viaggio gratis!
You got yourselves a free trip!

Mi sono beccato il coronavirus durante un viaggio in Inghilterra.
I got the coronavirus on a trip to England.

Grazie a te ci siamo beccati tutti una punizione.
Thanks to you we all got ourselves a detention.

The reflexive form can also be used informally to mean to bicker or squabble:

Giacomo e Francesca si beccano in continuazione, non ne posso più delle loro liti.
Giacomo and Francesca argue constantly, I’m sick of their fights.

Tired Sick Of It GIF by TLC

Or to mean to meet up or catch up with someone: 

Ci becchiamo stasera per fare due chiacchiere?
Shall we meet up this evening for a chat?

Ci becchiamo dopo!
Catch you later! (lit., ‘we’ll catch each other later’).

Finally, to beccare a person can mean to show disapproval of someone or even boo them, usually in the context of a musical or theatrical performance:

Quando gli attori hanno finito lo spettacolo, il pubblico li ha beccati senza pieta.
When the actors had finished the show, the audience booed them without mercy.

With all that newfound knowledge, the world’s your oyster: see if you can go out and beccare a friend, a criminal, or a winning lottery card (but not a cold or a booing).

Is there an Italian word of expression 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.