Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean

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When my daughter, grandson and I visited Italy in 2017, we loved every moment of our 12 days there. Italy was my first experience spending time in a country where English is not the primary language.

I prepared for the trip by learning a smattering of Italian and watching favorite movies set in that country, like Eat, Pray, Love and Under the Tuscan Sun. I couldn’t wait to hear Italian spoken in Italy. The language is so beautiful.

I was not disappointed! We toured Italy with a group. Our tour guide and bus driver spoke Italian fluently, being native to the country. Fabiola taught us phrases every day, and while speaking to us in English, often inserted Italian words for their wonderful nuance.

Whether you’ve traveled to Italy already or plan a future trip there, learn these fun Italian phrases and what they mean, to add to your enjoyment of the country.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean title meme

Italian Phrases and Words Commonly Used in the US

Italian is a Romance language along with Spanish, French and Romanian. These languages all share common Latin roots which influenced English as well. Additionally, many Italian words came to the US when Italians immigrated to America in the early 20th century.

Here are some of the words we “borrowed” from the Italians.

  • al dente – firm but not chewy, slightly undercooked pasta
  • barista – the person who prepares and serves coffee at cafes and drinks at bars
  • ciabatta – a rectangular white bread roll
  • latte – in the US, coffee with steamed milk. In Italy the word means milk.
  • pepperoni – in the US a type of cured sausage served on pizza. In Italy it means peppers.
  • ballerina – female ballet dancer
  • diva – any person with an air of importance. Originally, a famous female singer.
  • graffiti – writings or drawings on public walls
  • patio – outdoor space used for dining or entertaining
  • villa – country house originally. Now a larger house with a garden.
  • finale – literally, “the end”

Check out the following fun phrases commonly heard and used in Italy.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean

Ricco Sfondato

This expression describes someone who is wealthy. It literally means “rolling in money”.

Amore a Prima Vista

When it’s love at first sight, the Italians say “Amore a prima vista”,

Guastafesta

This Italian slang word refers to someone who is down in the dumps, a spoiler or one who ruins a party.

Essere Nelle Nuvole

This phrase is used for the one who has his or her head in the clouds or for one who is considered a daydreamer.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean daydreamer
Fun Italian phrases and what they mean – essere nelle nuvole…that’s me! And I happen to be wearing the shirt in Venice. I think I need one with the Italian phrase.

Basta, Basta

When someone is annoying in words or actions, the Italians say “basta, basta”. Enough is enough.

Dai

This word is similar to the American phrase “come on” that’s used when we plead with someone to do something. Dai can also mean “stop it”.

Boh

Boh is the same as saying “I don’t know”. It’s a quick Italian word to use when you feel indecisive.

Cogli l’Attimo

One of my favorite phrases from Italy, Fabiola used it every day in an enthusiastic way.  Similar to the phrase “seize the day”, it literally means “catch the moment”. I love it.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean catch the moment
Fun Italian phrases and what they mean – our tour guide, Fabi, who told us every day “Cogli l’Attimo”, catch the moment.

Che Figata

You can use this phrase often in Italy. It means “how cool” and it’s appropriate for everything from seeing historic structures to tasting Italian gelato.

Mi Fa Cagare

This one makes me laugh. It’s Italian slang meant to express extreme discontent with something. It literally means “It makes me poop.” Our equivalent might be “That sucks.”

Che Schifo

Italians use this phrase to express repulsion. It means “how disgusting!”

Figurati!

This one means “no worries” in Italian. It is used when you really mean “don’t worry about it”. Thank you for helping me out! Figurati!

Or it is also used when you are just being nice about something that happened and you really are worried about it. Sorry I broke your chair. Figurati.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean no worries
Fun Italian phrases and what they mean – we had all kinds of interesting experiences getting to Italy and getting home. Figurati…no worries. We made it.

Meno Male

This Italian phrase literally means “less bad”. However, it’s used to express gratitude, as in “thank God”.  You can also say “Grazie a Dio” which means the same thing.

Magari!

This is the Italian counterpart to “I wish!” or “I hope so!” It can also mean “maybe” if you are playing it cool with someone.

Will you return to Italy? Magari!

Can you give me a ride to the park later? Magari.

La Goccia Che Ha Fatto Traboccare il Vaso

This phrase translates to “the drop that made the vase overflow”. It’s similar to our phrase, “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Use it when something is just too much to bear.

In Bocca al Lupo

While the phrase literally means “in the mouth of the wolf”, it’s a good luck phrase, similar to our “break a leg”. To find out the correct response, check out Italian good luck traditions HERE.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean good luck
Fun Italian phrases and what they mean – in bocca a lupo, good luck.

Non Avare Peli Sulla Lingua

The literal translation is “don’t have hairs on the tongue”. For the Italians it means to speak plainly or say it like it is.

Scoprire Gli Altarini

This expression is used when someone reveals a secret. It’s similar to our saying, “let the cat out of the bag”. Which, when you think about it, where did that phrase come from? I must do a post about American English expressions and where they originated from.

Essere al Verde

While the phrase literally means “at the green”, green isn’t what the person is rolling in. The expression is used when someone is financially broke.

Ubriaco Come Una Scimmia

This fun expression translates to “drunk like a monkey”. You can guess the meaning! Use it when someone is wasted.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean wasted
Fun Italian phrases and what they mean – we enjoyed wine tasting in Italy and did NOT end up ubriaco come una scimmia!

Rompere le Scatole

When someone is bugging them, Italians say “rompere le scatole”. It means “you are getting on my nerves”.

Avere Culo

The literal translation, “to have arse”, doesn’t quite convey the intended meaning! The phrase is used for one who is very lucky or always lands on his or her feet.

Avere le Braccine Corte

Another Italian phrase that makes me laugh, this one is used for a person who is stingy with his money. It literally means “to have short arms” and implies that the person’s arms are too short to reach his pockets.

Non Vedo l’Ora

This is the perfect phrase to end the post with. It’s expressed with excitement and means “I can’t wait!”

Non vedo l’ora di visitare di nuovo l’italia! I can’t wait to visit Italy again!

Have you traveled in Italy? How many of these fun expressions have you heard?

Siena, Italy
Siena, Italy

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7 Replies to “Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean”

  1. I learned something new! The reason why I love traveling is knowing the country’s culture and of course learn their language a bit.

    Great post Cindy. I love the Basta, Basta! 🙂

  2. What a fun post! I’d never really thought about where some of these come from, like Diva. Even though this post is mostly about speaking the language, it really makes me want to go to Italy. Maybe someday! I should start practicing the language now!

  3. Haha!! Love it! I recognize a few of these phrases for sure! Che Schifo gets used in my house often! Lol!!

  4. I love that you do these posts! I always learn something new. For example, I always thought ballerina was a French word. Now I want to learn Italian.

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