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20 of the Best Italian Expressions for Travelers

Italy Languages
by Jasmine Mah Jul 13, 2017

Even the most hilarious Italian expressions or insults somehow manage to sound pretty as they roll off the tongue. After eight years of Italian courses, two years in Italy, and being with one Italian husband, here’s a sample of some of of my favorite expressions:

1. Sei fuori.

You’re out (of your mind).

An expression that is very useful if you want to tell someone they’re crazy — it can have both positive and negative connotations. It’s often paired with “come un balcone” which altogether means, “You’re as out of it as a balcony.”

2. Cavolo!


It’s a polite way (not crude) to express delight, surprise, amusement, or disappointment, depending on the tone you use.

3. Ci vuole fegato.

You need liver (lit).

It actually means that something requires “guts” to do — that you need to be brave or courageous.

4. Hai voluto la bicicletta? Adesso pedala!

You wanted a bicycle? Now pedal it!

The Italian version of, “You made your bed, now sleep in it.”

5. Boh!


The official way to say “I don’t know” is,“non lo so,” but this 3-letter beauty will become your new favorite. As commonly used as the name Fabio, it’s faster and easier to say than the official version.

6. Sono brillo.

I’m tipsy.

Everybody in the club gettin’ tipsy…well…in the piazza is more like it. Careful with conjugations, if you’re a girl you’ll be wanting to say, “sono brilla.”

7. Che storia!


Used as a general positive exclamation, as when you see the backside of Michelangelo’s David in the Uffizi Gallery.

8. Mi ha tirato il bidone.

He/she stood me up.

Said when your hot date doesn’t show up or cancels right before because he has to wash his hair.

9. Sei un secchione.

You’re a nerd.

And not in a cute, cool hipster good-music-loving nerd way but the real kind. Think Urkel.

10. Tutta tirata.

All done up.

Said about someone (a female) who is dressed and made up to the extreme, essentially everyone in line at Just Cavalli in Milan on a Saturday night.

11. Essere una cozza.

To be a mussel (lit).

Actually similar to calling someone a grenade, an unattractive woman. Apparently mussels are unattractive?

12. Sei un boccaleone.

You drink everything up.

In the sense, you believe everything you’re told.

13. Ho fatto una cagata.

I messed up.

Say it when you do something stupid like order a cappuccino at the same time as a pizza.

14. Bere come una spugna.

To drink like a sponge (lit).

Would be the equivalent of English’s, “drink like a fish.” I’m with the Italians on this one, a sponge is infinitely more entertaining.

15. Fare il figo.

To look cool or play it cool.

Guys, you’ll be wanting to, “fare il figo,” so you can get a YES to the question in #16. This might entail showing up to the discoteca in a Ferrari or even running your hands through your hair à la John Travolta.

16. Vuoi limonare?

Wanna make out?

If you ever see Italians comment on Instagram pics with the lemon emoji, now you know why.

17. Sei una frogna.

You’re a glutton.

A “fogna” is a sewer, so this expression is similar to calling someone a garburator (this is for the Canadians) or a human garbage disposal unit. Use while you’re staring at someone in disgust and/or admiration because they can eat so much.

18. Non gufare!

Don’t jinx it!

Hard to translate but essentially should be shouted at someone that is doing or saying something that might bring bad luck to the situation or cause a divine universal shift in the desired outcome.

19. Che figata!


An acceptable option to #7, pretty much interchangeable. Keep both in your repertoire because you’ll need a lot of these interjections on any trip to Italy!

20. Che palle!

What balls!

This is what you say when you arrive at the Colosseo at 8am and the line is already snaking around the exterior. Or aloud, when you’re wide awake in your hotel room because your travelling buddy snores like a champ. Or when your Italy trip is over and you have to head back to the grind.

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