A very useful-sounding term just popped up on my screen the other day, and now I find myself wondering how I possibly could have worked in journalism for all these years without having known it.
The word is dietrologia, an Italian word meaning the "science" - very loosely speaking - of scoping out ulterior motives (actual or imputed), of finding the story behind the story of public events.
It's an informal coinage, from dietro (behind) and logia, the Italian equivalent of the "logy" element of English words, meaning "study," as in "psychology" (study of the mind).
The term appeared in a Monitor Web column on the question of Italian connections to the dubious "intelligence" the US and British governments invoked to bolster the now-discredited claim that Saddam Hussein's agents sought to acquire yellowcake from Niger.
Our column mentioned Henry Farrell, a professor of international studies at George Washington University. He described reports about the Italian intelligence community's involvement in the Niger uranium affair, as "examples of what Italians call dietrologia - a word that loosely translates as the widespread belief that political, security, and criminal forces are constantly engaged in secret plots and maneuvers."
He added, "There is a pervasive [public] belief of dietrologia carried out behind the scenes by powerful, shadowy figures, all more or less incomprehensible except to a few insiders in Rome."
As a term, dietrologia seems to go back a few decades to a period when Italian politics seemed to have more than its share of shadowy political murders - remember the Red Brigades, the murder of Aldo Moro, the mysterious death of Roberto Calvi.
The term has been back in the news just in the past few days, though, as Italians marked 30 …