10 Untranslatable and Funny Italian Words (with Examples!)
After living in Italy for three years and self-teaching myself Italian, I’ve come across many situations where the Italian to English translation just didn’t quite sound right in English. Anyone who speaks multiple languages knows this feeling quite well! Google Translate is incredibly useful, but of course, it has its limits and isn’t 100% accurate. That’s why I’ve created this list of funny Italian words (both in the sense that they’re laughable, but also strange or unique).
Just a quick intro: my name is Ryan Shannon and I’m an SEO & eCommerce expert and copywriter (feel free to add me on LinkedIn!). I’m completing my internship for my Business Management degree at Languages Point here in Turin.
Since I interact with both English and Italian on a daily basis, I figured I’d create a list of some funny Italian words that are hard to translate from Italian to English. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, you need to become familiar with these words!
1. Eh! – To express understanding, to express irony
“Eh” is a sound I hear on a daily basis. It’s not so much a word as it is a sound, but it’s still important to understand nonetheless! ‘Eh’ is one of my favorite funny Italian words, although I don’t really use it myself! You’ll hear ‘eh’ used in a variety of contexts, including the following.
To express you understand.
Since I grew up near the Canadian border, I’d always been familiar with many Canadians ending their sentences in ‘aye?’ to express something like ‘right?’ or ‘don’t you agree?’. This is similar to the Italian ‘eh’ but the two differ a bit. The ‘aye?’ is phrased as a question, and therefore the intonation rises at the end of the word. Whereas, in Italian, ‘eh’ is a short and flat sound that can be used on its own in response to something said.
For example: Bob: “I’m tired of this rainy weather.” Lucy: “eh.”
To express a sense of disbelief.
This form of using “eh” is a little less common, but you’ll still hear it thrown into conversation frequently. It’s used in a teasing way to express that you don’t believe someone. But in a joking way. The tone of voice is a little bit higher and the “eh” is a bit more elongated. It’s as if you’re saying “suuuure” in English (yes, with that many u’s).
An English equivalent would be something like this: Person A: ‘I’m only going to eat two cookies on Christmas’ and Person B responds, ‘sure’ (in a sarcastic tone).
A strongly expressed affirmative.
If you want to say ‘YES’ instead of ‘yes’ using just your voice, all you need to do is use ‘eh.’ Using ‘eh’ in this context implies a resoundingly affirmative response. For example, if someone asks you, “Do you like dogs?” you could then reply, “eh!” (meaning, yes! I love dogs. And not only that, I have 6 at home and am becoming a veterinarian).
You can think of “eh” in this context as an enthusiastic yes. Like: “well of course!”
To express sarcasm.
Eh” in this context usually means something like “well what’d you think was going to happen?” You can use this form of “eh” is a sarcastic tone of voice with a matching sarcastic expression (feel free to roll your eyes). This form of “eh” can also be like saying, “no sh*t Sherlock” or “duh!” or another sarcastic remark.
For example: Mary: “Italian is the language of Italy, right?” Cindy: “Eh!”
2. Suggestivo – Incredibly beautiful (not “suggestive” like Google Translate says)
It took me a while to fully understand what suggestivo means in Italian. If you plug suggestivo into Google Translate from Italian to English, Google will tell you it’s basically the same word in English. The only difference is the end of the word is changed from an ‘o’ to an ‘e’. Right? Well… not quite. You’d think that because the words are so similar they’d have a similar or the same meaning, but they don’t.
In English, suggestive is synonymous with indicative. And, it can also have a ‘dirty’ connotation, too. For example, a “suggestive film” means there’s probably some nudity or profanity in it. Or, wearing a “suggestive outfit” could mean wearing a short dress or revealing clothes, etc.
But suggestivo has a much more positive feeling attached to this untranslatable Italian word. Suggestivo can be likened to something paradisiacal, breathtaking, magnificent or simply bello.
If you’re mesmerized by a red-orange sunset that paints across the sky, you can say, ‘uau! Questo tramonto e’ suggestivo’ (meaning: wow! This sunset is incredibly beautiful).
3. Baffona – A woman with a mustache
I’ve never come across this word in my personal life – neither online nor in conversation. Yet, here it is. And I double-checked to make sure it’s a real world. It is. Baffona is simply a lady with a mustache (but it’s pejorative). Instead of having to write out “lady with a mustache, “ Italians have invented a clever and concise way of saying it: baffona.
So next time you see a lady with a mustache, feel free to call her a ‘baffona’ (although it’s probably best you do so in your own head!). Note that this term is, not surprisingly, pretty offensive. But it’s still another funny Italian word, nonetheless.
4. Boh! – Dunno
Instead of saying, “gee, I don’t know,” Italians are much more concise with their expressions. Boh is like saying “dunno”. It’s a quick way of saying you have no clue. It can be used if you have no idea what the person you’re speaking with is talking about or as.
You can use ‘boh’ in the following way: Jack: “What do you want to eat?” Jill: “Boh!”
5. Mah! – Dunno (again!)
Italians love to say ‘dunno!’ apparently (but don’t we all?). Mah is simply another version of boh, however, there is a slight difference I’ve noticed. Boh is usually a response to a question, while mah is used to open a sentence.
For example: If I ask you, “How many scoops of ice cream do you want?” you could reply, “Mah, magari 3.”
6. Gattara – Cat Lady
Crazy cat ladies. We all know them and some of us love them. A crazy cat lady is an elderly lady who, either by misfortune or choice, acquires a sizable (herd? flock?) of cats.
This is one of those funny Italian words that’s not difficult to translate but is incredibly articulate and doesn’t exist in English. Instead of describing a lady as a ‘cat lady’, the Italian language joins the two terms together to create a novel noun for English speakers: gattara.
When you stumble upon another cat lady in Italy (or anywhere else in the world), now you can refer to them as gattare instead of crazy cat ladies.
7. Pantofolaio – Couch potato
A pantofolaio is a home-body. Somebody who wants to stay in bed all day (or the couch, watching TV). We’ve all been there and done that a few times in our lives, but the pantofolaio takes it to the extreme. They’re habitually lazy, preferring to stay inside rather than head out on weekends.
If you’re feeling lazy – go ahead and embrace being a pantofolaio. Keep your sweatpants or pajamas on all day – no one’s going to judge you from the comfort of your own home!
Examples of how to use this funny Italian word: Person A: “James has been inside all week and never wants to go out and enjoy the sunshine” Person B: “I know, he’s such a pantofolaio.”
8. Cioe’ – Like
Cioe’ is simply a filler word like ‘like.’ Yet, when you look the word up on Google Translate, you’ll see that it means ‘that is’, ‘namely’ or ‘i.e.’. In reality, it’s used more often by younger Italians to fill space between words or to further define a topic.
You can think of cioe’ as an English equivalent of ‘like’. But not in the metaphorical sense, or as the verb ‘to like’. Rather, imagine a valley girl or a Millennial who has to use the word ‘like’ unnecessarily in every other sentence. That’s what cioe’ is in Italian.
If you find you just don’t care about anything and the opinions of anyone, chances are you’re a menefreghista. Menefreghista is an adjective used to describe someone who doesn’t have a care in the world, which derives from menefreghismo.
This adjective comes from ‘non me frega niente!’ which is an Italian way of saying ‘I don’t give care about anything’ but with a harder, uglier feel to the phrase. A more accurate translation would be ‘IDGAF’ or “I don’t give a sh*t.’
So if you’re someone who doesn’t have a care in the world for others, chances are you’re a manefreghista. But note: it doesn’t mean “careless” or “carefree” as in neglectful or someone who lives free of worries and concern. It carries more of a negative connotation and is used to insult someone.
10. Apericena – Buffet style dinner with a cocktail
Last but not least: this is one of my favorite funny Italian words: apericena. If you’ve ever been to Italy, you’ve probably come to know and love the world-renowned aperitivo. And of course, one of the most basic words you can learn in the food-centered lexicon of Italian is cena for dinner. So what do you get when you combine these two very important (and delicious) words? Apericena.
If we were to translate apericena into English, we couldn’t do so in just a few words. Rather, we’d need to take a few words to really spell out the meaning of this characteristically Italian words. Basically, apericena is a place that gives you a cocktail plus buffet food for around 10 euro. You may be thinking: well, isn’t that what aperitivo is? No, not really.
Aperitivo vs. Apericena
Aperitivo is usually full of foods that are high in carbohydrates because they’re cheaper than supplying meat. You can find things like grilled eggplant, bread, and various local treats. Apericena, on the other hand, tends to be more filling like a buffet. You’ll find more dishes with meat, pasta, etc. laid out for you to indulge in.
Next time you see apericena in Turin (or elsewhere in Italy) now you know what to expect: lots of delicious food with a cocktail for a reasonable price.
Impress Your Italian Friends with These Funny Italian Words
There you have it! Keep these funny Italian words tucked away in your brain – you’ll never know when you might need them! Next time you’re at your favorite gelato shop or restaurant, now instead of saying a simple “si’” you can respond with an emphatic “eh!”
And now you won’t be going out on Friday night to ‘do that thing where you get a drink and some food’ – but rather you’ll be heading to an apericena! (unless, of course, you’re a pantofolaio – chances are you’ll be planted on the couch inside on Friday night).
I hope you like – and will use – this list of funny, untranslatable words. The Italian language is quite suggestivo (and if you need help learning it in Turin, you’re always welcome to stop by Languages Point for lessons or translations!).