Posted by: debrakolkka | March 30, 2011

My favourite Italian words

I struggle to learn Italian. It seemed easy at first, because so many words seem familiar. We hear a lot in everyday life in Australia. We are used to Italian food and Italian words crop up everywhere. Who hasn’t heard ciao, bella, pizza, vino etc?

Once you get further into the grammar it suddenly becomes much more difficult. There are so many tenses and the plurals and possessives are just awful. On the other hand Italian sounds wonderful when spoken well and there are some truly delightful words.

Here are a few of my favourites.

casalinga – So much nicer than housewife. My husband says I don’t linger around the house much.

mozzafiato – Breathtaking is a pretty easy word to work into an Italian sentence.

scarafaggio – Cockroach is not so easy to work in. I haven’t seen one here.

scombussolato – Mind you, discombobulated is a pretty good English word.

pazzo – It sounds a bit better than crazy.

scervellato – This is equally good in English – flibbertigibbet.

barboncino – What a lovely word for poodle.

chiacchiera – This sounds like what it means – chatter.

pettegolezzo – Take chatter a bit firther into gossip.

stupidaggine – I learned this when I was getting my drivers’ licence – foolishness.

brutto anatroccolo – Let’s hope the ugly duckling turns into a beautiful cigno – swan.

pappagallo – Parrot, hospital urinal or a man who bothers women in the street, pappagallino is a bugerigar and pappagallismo is bothering women the street –  very handy word.

I love the way these words just roll off the tongue, once you learn how to pronounce them.  Italian can sound great even when you are saying something unpleasant.

I love the quote from Emperor Charles V   “I speak Spanish to God , Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse.”

I don’t know where English fits in, but clearly, Italian is the language of love. This quote comes from an excellent book about Italians, called appropriately  “The Italians”  by Luigi Barzini. I am rereading it and it has lots of really good stuff. If I find some other great quotes I will pass them on.


  1. I find Italian musical! I absolutely love the way it sounds. Perfetto!

    • It is a very musical langage. I love the sound when it is spoken well – unfortunately that is not by me.

  2. I’m going to try and work those into my vocab, Deb.. 🙂

    • Scarafaggio and barboncino shouldn’t be too difficult in Australia.

  3. And in any language the word for ‘butterfly’ is attractive (as it is in English.) I can remember ‘farfalla’ because of farfalle pasta.

    Working it into conversation is more difficult.

    • Farfalla was almost included – it is a great word – great pasta as well.

  4. It’s a great language, and I really should learn it ( again!), as I am part Italian.
    I love ragazza and pronto and aspettare – all words I have had intimate dealings with!

    • A friend of ours thought Pronto was hello as that is what people say when they answer the phone, so he was saying Pronto to all he met for a while.

  5. Haha there’s no mistaking it if I am called stupidaggine! 😛

    • Stupidaggine – foolishness – could never be applied to you.

      • At the end of a work week in Italy we would say ‘Buon Weekend’ to our colleagues. As for the pappagalli; they would say, in expressing their amorous ways, ‘I love you’ ….to a perfect stranger, of the tourist type, not Italian. Otherwise, it could earn them a ‘schiaffo’ (slap). Another great word, pronounced ski-ah-fo!

      • Schiaffo is inded a good word. I’ll remember that one.

  6. At the end of the work week in Italy, we would say ‘Buon Weekend’ to our colleagues. And the pappagalli; well they often prefer to use English when flaunting their amorous ways ‘I love you’…to a perfect stranger!!

    • I often hear “weekend” used here. Some Italians like to throw the occasional English word about, much the same as we use Italians words sometimes.

  7. You are right – Italian sounds so musical when it is spoken… rolling off the tongue. Why do Italians always look so passionate and energetic when they speak? They speak with their whole bodies!

    • Southern Italians are more likely to use their hands than those here in the north.

      • Oh, right – I did not know that! 🙂

      • Northern Italians are a bit more reserved. I used to live in the south many years ago, it is much more theatrical down there.

  8. Sorry – I thought I deleted my first post…resubmitted it with a small addition.

  9. Oh the language of love, everything even the awful words sound sexy. Im going to have a crack at using some of these words in my every day. 🙂

    • If you wish I can pass on some very handy curses.

  10. All those words sound wonderful. I wonder what people would say next time I fill in a form, Occupation= casalinga. I hate the term housewife.
    Even cockroach sounds better in Italian.

    • Casalinga is great isn’t it? I’d much rather be a casalinga than a housewife or worse, hausfrau.

  11. My wife and me have just booked our first of many intensive Italian lessons to prepare for our retirement in Italy. Looking forward to include the above words.

    • That’s great! We went to school for a while too. I think formal lessons are a great idea. You have more fun if you can understand what is going on. I’m sorry I will miss you as well. I know you will like Rosi and Adriano.

  12. Ragazza – I noticed Mary D liked the word ragazza – what does it mean? One of my most very favourite pieces of music ever is by Luciano Pavarotti it’s named ‘Caruzo’. I can’t understand a word of it but it’s so passionate and heart rendingly beautiful. Una ragazza is one of the phrases in it. In my mind it’s sung in an empty Piazza, with only the moon for light and audience.

    • Una ragazza means a girl. Perhaps he is standing in an empty piazza singing to a girl he quite likes, but she has un ragazzo, a boy.

  13. I can relate to this post! Close to my heart of the hardships of learning to speak and write Italian. True Italian is easy compared to all the dilects.!

    • I used to live in the south near Sorrento, where my first husband’s family spoke a dialect which I found impossible to descipher. I find the grammar very difficult. I am still using mostly present and passato prossimo.

  14. You can add the name “Mirella” I heard that it is an italian name:) so my mom wanted me to have a name in the “language of love” like you said lol lol lol lol.
    nice post Deb!

    • Mirella is a beautiful name. We have a Mirella in the village. My name here is Debora and there are a couple of those as well.

  15. She’s BEAUTIFUL. It’s interesting and strange how different the statue looks from different angles. Also interesting that we both wrote about similar places today, in a way.

    • You know what they say about great minds.

  16. Me too!!! I LOVE scombussolato!! But scervellato I’d never heard…and I have so many occasions to use it! Thank you thank you!

    • It’s a great word in both Italian and English isn’t it?

  17. I have two favourite words to add to your list: basta and gamberi.
    Basta – because it can be used in so many situations and just makes sense. Plus because it doesn’t translate to English usage well – my Italian students learning English always try to finish their sentences with ‘and… stop’ and it doesn’t quite sound the same.
    Gamberi – because it just sounds cool (not to mention that they are delicious)!

    • Basta, abastanza, enough is certainly a good word and gamberi, prawns, are delicious.

  18. I am sure you know this…. Elephants Yeah! as my all time favourite misheard Italian phrase video here

    I love Italian, though mine is very basic school stuff from over thirty years ago, I love the way that the pronounciation follows the rules, once you have learnt them, there are very few exceptions. i barboncini sono addormentato thanks for the new words xx

    • I had not heard this. It is hilarious – thanks for the link. The pronounciation in Italian is not the problem (though some listening to me may disagree) it is the wretched grammar I struggle with.

  19. I love their body languages. 😀

  20. Ha ha!German to my horse,so true.!lol.

    • I particularly like that quote.

  21. […] much I just adore gorgeous and unusual words – so of course I just loved Jennifer’s and Debra and Liz’s lists of their favourite Italian words. […]

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