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All is Not What it Seems in Italy

All is a fairly innocuous looking word, it means, well, all. In Italian, the equivalent of “all” is “tutto”, but the Italian word does not mean the same as “all” in English. Surprised? I thought you might be, so I’ll explain.

Let’s start with an example:

Imagine there are 20 people in a room. 10 of these people are wearing blue hats with the letter ‘B’ on them.

One of the none-blue hat wearers says: “All the people wearing blue hats with the letter ‘B’ on them must now leave the room”.

In the UK, or in the USA, the 10 people wearing blue hats emblazoned with the letter ‘B’ would then leave the room. Simple. “All”, after all, does mean “all” and it is quite close to “everyone” too.

Now, imagine the same scenario in Italy with a room full of Italians.

If one of the 20 people in the room who is not wearing a blue hat with a ‘B’ on it were to say the same:  “All the people wearing blue hats with the letter ‘B’ on them must now leave the room”, either in English or, more probably, in Italian, then 8 or 9 people, possibly fewer, would leave the room.

One or two Italians would stay behind because the Italian for all does not mean the same as it does in English. Some Italians might argue that it does, but they would be wrong.

A number of those letter ‘B’ emblazoned blue hat wearing Italians would not leave. If asked why, the person concerned, who, for the sake of argument and no more, is called Silvio Berlusconi, would say that being a rich and powerful billionaire, significant tax payer and leader of a political party, he does not have to leave the room. ”All” does not apply to him. Silvio would be allowed to stay.

There might be another letter ‘B’ emblazoned blue hat wearing Italian who does not leave either. When asked why he, or she, had not left the room, this person would say something like, “I’m Silvio’s best friend and where he stays, so do I”. Silvio would also insist that his friend, who we shall call, Roberto, be allowed to stay. Roberto would not leave the room.

In the end, all of the people wearing blue hats with the letter ‘B’ on them would not leave if the room were either in Italy or managed by Italians.

As you have seen, in Italy, all does not really mean all in the natural sense. What the Italian word means is ‘all’ but with a few random exceptions we make up as we go along.

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At the end of this whimsical piece, you will see Article 3 from Italy’s constitution, in both English and Italian. Here’s part, not all, of Italy’s constitution which employs the word ‘all’:

  • All citizens have equal social status and are equal before the law – English
  • Tutti i cittadini hanno pari dignità sociale e sono eguali davanti alla legge – Italian

On the face of it, the Italian, plural, word for “all” – tutti – does appear, to the unwary, to imply the same as its English equivalent, except it does not.

Both Silvio Berlusconi and his lawyers don’t accept that ‘all’ means ‘all’. Indeed, they are right, as ‘all’ in Italian really does not mean ‘all’ in the true sense. Oh no. As pointed out before and illustrated with the blue hat example, in Italy ‘all’ means ‘all’ but with a few random exceptions we make up as we go along.

This is the logic Berlusconi applies to his recent conviction. While ‘all’ those who break the law and attempt to defraud Italy’s tax authorities should be punished, ‘all’ does not apply to party leaders, politicians, and those with a few billion Euros in various on, and offshore, bank accounts. Quite simply, ‘all’ does not mean ‘all’, even if it does, or should.

To further confirm that this is the case in Italy, you should know that before recently convicted Silvio Berlusconi can be declared ineligible to stand for re-election, a vote will have to be held in Italy’s Senate. If you or I are caught hiding cash from Italy’s taxman, no vote will be held to determine whether or not we can stand for election to Italy’s parliament. That is because we, and this includes Italy’s citizens, form part of one ‘all’ whereas Italy’s politicians, plus billionaires called Silvio Berlusconi, who are supposedly Italian citizens too, are part of another, different, distinctly separate ‘all’.

Thus, the ‘all’ used in Italy’s constitution does not really mean all, at all, does it?

Italy’s Constitution

Not all of it, but one choice chunk.

Article 3  [Equality]
(1) All citizens have equal social status and are equal before the law, without regard to their sex, race, language, religion, political opinions, and personal or social conditions.

Art. 3

Tutti i cittadini hanno pari dignità sociale e sono eguali davanti alla legge, senza distinzione di sesso, di razza, di lingua, di religione, di opinioni politiche, di condizioni personali e sociali.

As you can see, all is not what it seems in Italy. This is quite probably why all is not too well here either.

Now, I hope that is all clear.

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