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POLITICS

The words and phrases you’ll need to understand Italian political discussions

From armchairs to poisoned meatballs, here's some of the vocabulary used by Italians to talk about Italian politics.

The words and phrases you'll need to understand Italian political discussions
Italian opposition MPs hold up sigs reading "Conte resign" in the lower house on January 18th. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino / POOL / AFP

Italian political goings-on are famously unpredictable, but they don't have to be completely confusing.

Once you're armed with a bit of background information and some specifically Italian political language, it does get easier to understand what's going on (at least, most of the time).

READ ALSO:  An introductory guide to Italian politics

You may already have some basic political vocabulary down, such as le elezioni (general elections), partiti politici (political parties) and i sondaggi (opinion polls).

But if you want to follow or discuss the latest political crisis in the Italian news, you'll probably find that these words aren't quite enough. 

Italian political discourse (or “politichese“) features lots of words used informally to describe peculiarities of the Italian system – and their meanings often escape non-native Italian speakers.

Here's a quick look at some of the words you may come across in Italian political news reports, on Italian social media, or in discussions at your local bar.

Poltrone

Why would a power-hungry politician be keen to deny that he is “hunting for armchairs”? In this case, such a statement has nothing to do with furniture shopping. Una poltrona does of course mean “armchair” or “seat” and it can be used to talk about a job or position within a company, or in this case, a government. 

In a political context, a politician on the hunt for poltrone is attempting to gain important 'seats' or positions for his party members within the government .

Responsabili

We've heard a lot about the votes of i responsabili in Italian political reports recently. This is usually translated as “the responsible ones” or “the constructors”.

In the context of the latest political crisis, it refers to any independent lawmaker who decided to support the ruling coalition government in order to prevent it from collapsing.

Ribaltone

Forming an alternative majority with opposition parties after a government collapse, in order to avoid a snap election, is a timeless feature of Italian politics.

This word translates as “turnaround”, and it is, of course, how the last coalition government was formed between the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party.

Italy's former prime minister Matteo Renzi. Photo: AFP

Trasformismo

Another time-honoured Italian tradition, this is the act of switching your political allegiance depending on how the wind blows.

Totoministri

This word doesn't have anything to do with Italian comic treasure Totò – more's the pity – but it often has elements of farce.

This is a hard one to translate – see the full explanation here – but it means something like 'minister sweep'. You'll see it it newspaper headlines whenever journalists are busy speculating on who'll be part of a new government. 

Governo balneare

A “seaside government”. When an Italian political crisis strikes during the summer months, you'll see this idiom in the Italian press. It dates back to 1963, but was used frequently during the last government crisis in 2019.

According to one definition, it describes a new government “baptized between June and August with the sole objective of lasting until the weather turns cold”. In other words, it's a government formed hastily to avoid a deeper crisis or elections in the middle of everyone's summer holidays.

Polpette avvelenate

Beware the “poisoned meatballs” of Italians politics – this is used to describe a politician trying to tempt a rival into doing something which will likely be bad for them politically further down the line, as in this example from the 2019 European election campaign (which also features una poltrona).

“League leader Matteo Salvini insisted that he will not ask for a single extra seat, only the implementation of his government programme of “autonomy, unblocking construction sites, tax cuts, security decree” all of which are poisoned meatballs for the Five Star Movement.”

Pasticciaccio

The Italian word pasticcio is used to describe a complex, chaotic, multi layered, scandal-ridden mass of irregularities and confusion – which makes it perfect for describing the messiest of situations in politics, Italian or otherwise.

READ ALSO: Ten English words that make you sound cool in Italian

Pasticciaccio, then, is something even worse. It's defined by one Italian dictionary as “a tangled situation with mysterious or problematic implications, with no way out or solution.”

The term has been most recently spotted in Italian media reports about Brexit.

Political nicknames

Some political parties in Italy, as elsewhere, have nicknames.

For example, the League is sometimes referred to as il Carroccio, the name for a medieval ox-drawn altar used for pre-battle services in medieval Italian wars. This was used as a symbol by the party when it was called the Northern League.

You'll also hear the major players in Italian politics referred to by well-known nicknames. 

For example, Matteo Renzi is known asil rottomatore” (“the scrapper”, or “the wrecker”) due to his habit of destabilising coalition governments.

Silvio Berlusconi meanwhile is often referred to in media reports as “l'immortale” (the immortal) because of his long political career, which continues today despite numerous sex scandals, a tax fraud conviction, regular health scares, and his advancing age.

There are of course plenty of other, more insulting nicknames used in Italian politics, which we won't list here.

This is just a small selection of our favourite Italian political words and phrases. Is there another you think we should add to the list? Please get in touch by email and let us know.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.

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