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10 Untranslatable Italian Phrases We Need in English

Italy Languages
by Giorgio Velardita Nardini Mar 15, 2018

Every language has phrases or words that can stump someone who isn’t a native speaker, no matter how many hours of practice they’ve put into classes. Italian has many untranslatable terms that are woven into not only the language, but the culture, too.

These 10 untranslatable Italian terms are ones that are worth learning how to use.

1. Boh

Literally, boh doesn’t mean anything, but Italians use it in place of “non lo so,” or “I don’t know.” While you say it, shrug your shoulders and twist your mouth downward. It’s the laziest Italian word there is.

2. Ti voglio bene

In English, you can say “I love you” to both friends and lovers. In Italian, there are two separate expressions: “ti amo” for your partner and “ti voglio bene” for your friends and family.

3. Abbiocco

The closest translation to “abbiocco” is food-coma. It’s that feeling you get after you stuffed yourself with your grandma’s lasagna. The only thing you’re capable of doing during an “abbiocco” is hit the couch and give out some sort of death rattle. Embrace it, it comes with the territory of Italian food culture.

4. Spaghettata

As you can imagine, “spaghettata” has something to do with spaghetti. If you get a call from friends inviting you to have a “spaghettata,” you are obviously going to a spaghetti-party. It doesn’t necessarily have to be spaghetti — the pastabilities are endless.

5. Tizio, Caio, e Sempronio

Tizio, Caio, e Sempronio is used in a dialogue when referring to multiple unspecified people. It is the equivalent of Tom, Dick, and Harry (so technically there is some sort of English language translation). But sometimes Italians only use “Tizio e Caio” without including “Sempronio.” Italians also sometimes use “Tizio” to refer to a random guy.

6. Mamma mia

If someone bothers you, say “Mamma mia.” If you’re in front of the Colosseum and you find it beautiful, say “Mamma mia.” If you’re enjoying your mom’s spaghetti, always say “Mamma mia che buoni” (Mamma mia, it’s so good!).

7. Magari

Magari has many meanings depending on the context, but generally, it can be roughly translated to “I wish.”

For example: “Did you win the tickets for the game?”


8. Apericena

Aperitivo plus cena equals apericena. Whereas an aperitivo is a meal consisting of a drink and a small bite consumed before dinner — generally between 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM — an “apericena” takes place at dinner (“cena”) time and has way more food. It often consists of an unlimited buffet. On your next trip to Italy, find a good apericena.

9. Passeggiata

This word has a literal translation, but Italians use it for something else, too. Passeggiata means to walk. However, when a situation is straightforward or easy, we say it’s a passeggiata.

10. Dolce far niente

“Dolce far niente” translates to “sweet doing nothing,” and it refers to a thing you love: Having a break after lunch, a walk on the beach while eating gelato, watching Netflix — they’re all dolce far niente activities.

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