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The magic magari

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The word ‘magari’ is a little bit mystical. Just like ‘allora’, it’s a very Italian word which is used extensively in everyday speech. It’s origins are curious. It seems to come from the Greek word ‘makarios’, which means ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’. This implies that it must have originated in Southern Italy or Sicily, since the people of those territories were Greek-speaking for centuries.

The word is pronounced with the stress on the second ‘a’, i.e. magAri, not mAgari. Though there is no direct translation of ‘magari’ into English, we could approximate it to ‘maybe’, ‘if only’, or ‘I wish!’. You can imagine that it started out when a variant of the Greek word ‘makarios’ (blessed) began to be used as an exclamation with a religious theme (just like ‘bless you!’ or ‘God willing!’ in English). It can be used both as an adverb and as an interjection when talking about things we wish could happen or think may happen. It is best to avoid using it unless you are absolutely clear on what meaning you are going to convey.

As usual, examples are best:

Magari fosse vero!” – “If only it were true!”

Person A: “Vai in vacanza?” – “Are you going on holiday?”
Person B: “Magari!” – “If only!/I wish!

Magari comprero’ un altra” – “Perhaps I might buy another one.”

Magari potessi farlo anch’io!” – “If only I could do it too!”

The tone of voice in which you use magari can often influence its meaning. Saying magari sarcastically, by stretching your voice, you are implying that the possibility you are responding to is unlikely to happen. For example:

“Puoi venire a cena stasera?” – “Can you come to dinner tonight?”
Magari…” – “If only/perhaps/maybe…”

If, in the above sentence, you were to say magari gently, with an easy tone, it would mean that yes, you may well come to dinner tonight (translation: “Maybe”). However, if you were to say it sarcastically, it would mean that it’s highly unlikely that you will come (translation: “If only!”). You can also say it in a neutral tone, which makes your meaning deliberately ambiguous.

Here’s another one:

Magari ci vediamo dopo.” – “So maybe we’ll see each other later.”

In this example, you could mean that you will be seeing each other the very same day, the same week, maybe next year, or, indeed, never. It’s all tied up in that word magari, and that’s the beauty of it–you can change its meaning depending on how you use it. So very Italian.

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