Italian word of the day: ‘Insabbiare’

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If you have a basic knowledge of Italian vocabulary, you might see a word you recognise in insabbiare: sabbia, or sand.

So if you’re thinking that’s connected to the meaning of today’s word, you’d be right: insabbiare is verb literally meaning to bury something in sand, or to run aground or get stuck in it.

You might insabbiare a large pipe for aesthetic purposes, a plastic spade at the beach, or even (hopefully partially and temporarily) a person.

I bambini si sono divertiti a insabbiare il loro zio fino al collo.
The children had fun burying their uncle up to his neck.

Hanno insabbiato il condotto fognario che sbocca sulla spiaggia.
They covered up the sewage pipe that opens out onto the beach.

Il pesce pietra si insabbia per nascondersi dalla preda.
The stonefish covers itself in sand to hide itself from prey.

Or you can use the verb in the intransitive (no sentence object) pronominal (needing a reflexive pronoun) form to describe, for example, a boat or a car getting stuck in sand, or a pier silting up.

Passando di là la nostra macchina quasi sicuramente si sarebbe insabbiata.
Going that way our car would almost certainly have got stuck.

La barca si è insabbiata a 200 metri dalla riva.
The boat ran aground 200 metres from the shore.

Il porto in basso fondale è diventato inagibile perché si è insabbiato.
The shallow-water port became unusable because it got silted up.

Insabbiare, however, also has darker, metaphorical meaning: to cover up, suppress or bury the truth.

Il governo ha approfittato dell’attenzione mediatica data al crollo del ponte per insabbiare le notizie riguardanti l’aumento delle tasse.
The government exploited the media attention given to the bridge collapse to bury the news about raising taxes.

Il magnate ha fatto pressione ai giornali affinché insabbiassero la storia.
The business tycoon put pressure on the newspapers to sink the story.

Hanno usato la relazione per insabbiare tutte le sue malefatte.
They’ve used the report to cover up all the bad stuff he’s done.

A newspaper headline reads: ‘I never covered up the WHO study, says (the organisation’s deputy director) Ranieri Guerra’

In the same vein, it can also mean to shelve (a bill, policy, trial, etc.).

Hanno insabbiato la proposta di legge per motivi non molto chiari.
They shelved the draft law for reasons that aren’t quite clear.

And as you might guess, the noun insabbiamento means a cover up.

Vuole svelare l’insabbiamento tanto quanto te.
She wants to expose this cover up just as much as you do.

Forse non capite la portata di questo insabbiamento.
Perhaps you don’t understand the scale of this cover up.

Next time you stumble across a high-level conspiracy, you’ll know just how to describe it.

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