SHARE
COPY LINK

ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Colle’

Here's why you'll keep seeing this word in the Italian news this week.

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

You may already know that today’s word, colle (pronounced ‘kol-leh’), means ‘hill’ in Italian. But why are hills being discussed so much in the Italian news lately?

These reports aren’t referring to just any old hill, but to the most important of the seven hills in the capital:

i sette colli di Roma

the seven hills of Rome

Rome’s Colle Quirinale, or Quirinale hill, is where the formal residence of the Italian president sits: il Palazzo del Quirinale – the Quirinale palace

The sprawling building, for centuries home to popes and kings, has been the official residence of the head of state since the declaration of the republic in 1946.

As Italy’s parliament begins voting for a new president on Monday, the ‘Colle’ (capitalised) which we see mentioned in news reports doesn’t refer to the actual hill, or even the palace, but is used as shorthand for the office or position of president.

“The race for the presidency starts: first ballot at 3pm” – Il Sole 24 Ore, Monday January 24th.

‘All the stages to become president” – Adnkronos, Monday January 24th.

While the president’s place of work literally sits upon a hill, at election time perhaps the Italian media simply can’t resist invoking the image of an uphill race to reach the country’s highest office.

Manual widget for ML (class=”ml-manual-widget-container”)

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

Italian expression of the day: ‘Si tratta di’

What's this phrase all about?

Italian expression of the day: 'Si tratta di'

Today’s expression is one you’ll hear a lot in spoken Italian.

It’s also a tricky one for anglophones to wrap our heads around, because although it appears simple – ‘si tratta di’ basically means something along the lines of ‘it concerns/discusses/deals with/is about’ – it actually doesn’t translate very cleanly into English most of the time.

Let’s start with the use that’s easiest for us to grasp: asking and answering what something’s about/what it concerns.

– Pronto, sono l’ispettore Jackson, posso parlare con la signora Hoffman?
– Sì, sono io – posso chiedere di cosa si tratta?

– Hello, this is Inspector Jackson speaking, can I speak with Mrs. Hoffman?
– Yes, this is she – may I ask what this is concerning?

Boris Gabrieli GIF - Boris Gabrieli Padre Gabrieli GIFs

We can also use the phrase to say that something is ‘a matter of’ or ‘a question of’:

Se si tratta di qualche ora, rimarremo qui ad aspettarla.
If it’s a question of hours, we’ll stay here and wait for her.

Ora si tratta solo di scoprire dove ha lasciato le chiavi.
Now it’s a just a matter of figuring out where she left the keys.

And si tratta di can also be as a translation for ‘when it comes to’.

Adoro mangiare bene, ma quando si tratta di cucinare sono una frana.
I love eating well, but when it comes to cooking I suck.

Same GIF - Cooking GIFs

Where things start to get a bit more complicated is that you’ll often see the phrase used where the English translation doesn’t require anything.

For example, you might hear the following exchange at work:

– Michela non viene al lavoro oggi perché la sua bambina è malata.
– Spero che non si tratti di nulla di grave.

– Michela’s not coming into work today because her little girl’s sick.
– I hope it’s nothing serious.

You could say ‘I hope it doesn’t consist of anything serious’, which would get you closer to a direct translation – but in English this would sound oddly formal and overblown (in the above example we use tratti rather than tratta because spero che requires the subjunctive).

What if you want to say that a certain thing – a song, a book, a film, a speech – discusses or ‘deals with’ certain themes or issues?

Kelly Office GIF - Kelly Office Birthday GIFs

Firstly, note that impersonal si there. It’s standing in for a subject, which means we can’t have both the subject and the si in the same sentence together – one of them has to go.

You can say, for example, ‘Il suo terzo libro tratta delle idee di pressione sociale e di libertà personale‘ – ‘her third book deals with ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom.’

Or you can say, ‘Nel suo terzo libro, si tratta delle idee di pressione sociale e di libertà personale‘ – ‘In her third book, she discusses ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom” (a more literal translation would be ‘in her third book, ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom are discussed’, which sounds a bit awkward in English).

You could ask:

Di cosa tratta il libro?
What does the book discuss?

or

Di cosa si tratta nel libro?
What’s discussed in the book?

Adam Scott Whats It All About GIF - Adam Scott Whats It All About Fill Me In GIFs

What you can’t do is say, ‘Il libro si tratta di…’ or ask ‘Di cosa si tratta il libro?’. Neither of these constructions work because you can’t have both the impersonal si and the subject (in this case, il libro) together.

What if you want to say, for example, ‘the book/film is about…’?

The easiest way to do that is either to just say ‘il film parla di…‘ – ‘the film talks about…’ ; or ‘il film racconta la storia di…’ – ‘the film tells the story of…’:

Il film parla di un robot che vuole distruggere la razza umana.
The film’s about a robot who wants to destroy the human race.

arnold schwarzenegger terminator GIF

Il libro racconta la storia di un ragazzo che scopre di essere un mago.
The book tells the story of a boy who discovers he’s a wizard.

Hopefully now you have a better idea of what this phrase is all about!

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

SHOW COMMENTS