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Italian expression of the day: ‘Calzare a pennello’

This Italian phrase could be just right for you.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Calzare a pennello’
Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Few things in life give as much satisfaction as seeing that an item of clothing you’ve had your eye on fits perfectly the moment you try it on. Such moments are even more joyful when you’ve been overindulging in Italian food and are not exactly in the best shape of your life.

While the English language does offer some expressions suited to describing such moments – ’to fit like a glove’ is probably the most commonly used one – none have the same degree of style and sophistication as the Italian ‘calzare a pennello’.

From a grammatical standpoint, today’s expression is a fairly uncomplicated one: it’s made up of ‘calzare’, an intransitive verb used to say something wraps snugly around one’s body, and ‘a pennello’, an adverbial phrase meaning ‘painted by brush’.

So, as a whole, the idiom describes clothing items that fit their wearer so well that they look as though they’ve been painted onto their body.

For example:

– Come mi stanno questi jeans?

– Ti calzano a pennello. Stai veramente bene così.

– How do these jeans look on me?

– They fit you perfectly. You look really good.

– Che bello! Questa giacca mi calza a pennello!

– How beautiful! This jacket fits me perfectly. 

As you can see, the verb ‘calzare’ must be conjugated in accordance with the item doing the ‘fitting’, so to speak. So a shirt calza a pennello (third-person singular), whereas some trousers calzano a pennello (third-person plural).

The person wearing the clothing is usually referred to via objective personal pronouns (mi, ti, gli, le, ci, vi) or, much less frequently, by name preceded by ‘a’, as in:

– A Marco questo smoking sta a pennello.

– This tux fits Marco like a glove.

Though it originated as a way to describe well-fitting clothes or accessories, over time, the expression has naturally expanded its scope to other areas of life, so much so that it is now generally employed to refer to anything that suits someone particularly well. For instance:

– Il mio soprannome e’ Rossi. 

– Beh, ti calza a pennello visto che sei rosso di capelli.

– My surname is Rossi.

– Well, it sure suits you given that you’re red-headed.

There are a few variations on this phrase. Some native speakers may choose to use the verbs ‘andare’ (literally, ‘to go’) or ‘stare’ (literally, ‘to stay’) instead of ‘calzare’. In such cases, the meaning of the idiom does not change. 

– Queste scarpe ti stanno a pennello!

– These shoes fit you perfectly. 

And it’s worth knowing that a commonly-used Italian adjective, ‘calzante’, derives from ‘calzare’. Much like the expression ‘calzare a pennello’, it can be used to describe clothes that are particularly well-fitting, or to refer to any situation or event that is especially well suited to someone. 

– Il premier ha fatto un discorso calzante oggi.

– The prime minister made a fitting speech today.

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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.