Italian expressions that will make you sound like a local
If you are studying Dante’s language, the “bel canto” language, the opera’s language, the moda’s language, the cooking language, the art’s language and the “Bel Paese”’s language, we are sure that you would like to learn some Italian expressions to sound like a local during your next trip to Italy or to use when you talk with your Italian friends or colleagues!
We think that it’s essential to learn Italian expressions and Italian slang if you want to learn the language since most of the informal conversations always contain them. Italian slang and Italian expressions are usually avoided in school books, but don’t worry! We have collected here some of the Italian expressions and of the Italian slang that are most used by Italian native speakers. Let’s get started!
Non avere peli sulla lingua.
It literally means “To not have hair on your tongue”.
Of course, this expression doesn’t refer to any kind of hair! This Italian expression is used to indicate a person’s sincerity, that a person speaks frankly and with honesty, without worrying about any judgment. The English equivalent of this expression can be: “Not to mince one’s words”.
Why is this expression used?
This literary expression dates back to the 12th century. The hair on the tongue metaphorically indicates an obstacle, an impediment that would not allow one to speak quickly and fluently. This is why those who do not have hair on their tongues are able to express themselves without any kind of problem and without modulating their words.
Acqua in bocca!
It literally means “Water in your mouth!”
This Italian expression is used when you ask someone not to reveal a secret, not to open their mouth about something you have told them. The English equivalent of this expression is: “Mum’s word”.
Now we will discover together the origin of this really nice Florentine expression so that we can understand why it is used. The legend has it that a gossipy and malignant woman visited the priest to be confessed. The sin was that she couldn’t keep her mouth shut and asked him to suggest to her how to solve the problem. The priest then gave her a bottle of well water and told her never to lose it and to pour a drop into her mouth whenever she felt like speaking ill of others. This lady kept her promise and she was so happy with the results that she thought the water was miraculous.
Pagare alla romana
It literally means “Paying in the Roman style”.
You can say both “pagare alla romana” or “fare alla romana” (“doing it in the Roman style”). It can be translated in English as “going Dutch”. This expression is used when you want to share equally an expense between friends, it is usually related to lunches or dinners.
The origin of this expression dates back to the 19th century. At that time “alla romana” meant “the pooling of the various diners”, but actually the expression was also used in the 17th century, when it had another meaning that was “sliding away”. This Italian expression was also used to talk about some dish that was shared among the various dinners at a meal. Anyway, we don’t know when and how this change of meaning occurred, but we can imagine that it happened in the oral expression.
We can ask ourselves, why does it say “alla romana”? It is thought that it says “alla romana” and not for example “alla milanese” because of the romanata, that was a country snack organized by the Romans, in which everyone had to bring something to share with the rest of the participants.
Chi c’ha er pane non / nun c’ha i denti.
It literally means “Who has the bread, doesn’t have teeth”.
So “chi ha il pane non ha i denti”. This expression can be interpreted in different ways. It refers to two poor wretches and it means that often the goods and fortunes end up in the hands of those who cannot manage them. It means that some people sacrifice themselves during all of their life to obtain something and to accumulate wealth (that is the “bread”), but when they obtain it they are elderly (so they don’t have the “teeth” anymore). On the contrary, those who have the “teeth” (i.e. young people) don’t have the “bread”, therefore the wealth to enjoy it. It is a vicious circle. This proverb means that you can’t have everything. It is the English equivalent of “having the means but not the know-how”.The origins of these Italian expressions are not clear, all we know is that its origins are Roman.
And just to stay on topic, we will now move on to another Italian expression that us Italians use a lot!
Tutte le strade portano a Roma
It means “All of the roads lead to Rome”.
What does that mean? Well, it means that no matter which decision you will make, in all cases that road will lead you to the same result. So, whatever means you use to solve a problem, you will still achieve the same result.
Now let’s see where it came from. This Italian expression has its origins in the fact that during the Roman expansion and the Roman Empire, the Roman road system was organized in such a way that from all places – and in particular from large cities – it was possible to reach Rome along one of the many imperial roads.
This Italian expression has been in use since the Middle Ages when the communications system used was still that of the Roman Empire, which had fallen seven centuries earlier. For this reason, this expression is also used to say that new solutions still lead to old results, as if nothing had changed or if the system of doing is still the same.
By the way, an interesting thing is that some designers have shown that even with modern mapping systems, it’s still like that: all roads really lead to Rome!
Now, let’s talk about Italian slang and some insults that are commonly used!
It means: “dipwad”.
This Italian slang insult refers to a “foolish person”. So, the meaning is the same of some other Italian words, such as “babbeo”, “babbano”, “babbaleo”, “babbasso”, that share the same root “baba-”, that recalls the typical sound associated with stuttering.
This word is derived from the word “babbio”, an ancient term that was used in Tuscany. Originally, this Tuscan term referred to those people who spoke in a confused and awkward way, but over the centuries the meaning has evolved. Nowadays, this term refers to a person with poor intelligence, who shows reduced mental capacity and lack of sense.
This word can be used in a playful and affectionate manner between friends or family members.
Attaccate al tram!
It means: “stick yourself to the tram”.
This Italian expression (“to stick to the tram”) is an ironic piece of advice that is addressed to those people who, not having listened to any suggestions or advice that was given to them in the past and that would probably have helped them, are still in difficulty and are still asking for help. This term is used as a synonym for “arrangiarsi” (fend for yourself) and “cavarsela da soli” (look after yourself). It can be translated as “Tough spot”.
The Italian expression derives from the trams, these means of transport that once had external protrusions, which could be used as handles and that were used by laggards who literally “attached” themselves to the running tram and those who wanted to travel for free.
This term refers to a hard and ignorant person, who behaves accordingly, just like Yosemite Sam! It can be translated as “rube/hillbilly”.
Now let’s see the origins of this Italian insult. We know that this term was already used in the 19th century in Florence. The “buzzurri”, in fact, were the Swiss hawkers or the people who came from northern Italy who went to central Italy in winter to clean the fireplaces and to sell polenta, chestnuts and roasted chestnuts. They were poor people who had another culture and who were forced to live throughout the winter in order to earn a living.
In Rome, this word was a derogatory word to indicate an “immigrant”, a “new inhabitant”. Nowadays, this word is still derogatory and is used when you want to indicate a rude person.
This Roman expression is the abbreviation of “Mortacci tua!” or of “Tacci tua!”. It is a commonly used Italian insult, a swear word that means “the despicable dead of your family” and therefore has as its objective to insult the respectability of the ancestors of the family of the person you intend to offend. You can use this expression not only in Rome but wherever you are in Italy because it is used in Italian cinema and everyone knows its meaning.
By the way, today this expression is used more often, in fact, it is beginning to lose its original meaning. Today we could say that this Italian expression is used to say “Damn you!”. However, I would advise you to use it only if you are in the company of friends and certainly not if you want to talk to strangers!
The nice thing about this expression is that it takes on different meanings depending on the tone, facial features, posture and gestures of the interlocutor: if the interlocutor shows a face of wonder, of surprise, this expression can take on a positive connotation (for example: “Alimorté, ma ‘ndo se’ stato finora?” – “Damn you, where have you been so far?”). If, on the other hand, the interlocutor shows a face with an upset look, this Italian expression takes on a negative connotation (for example: “Alimorté, che hai fatto?!” – “Damn you, what did you do?”).
Now that you know some Italian slang and some Italian expressions, you can talk like a real native! What you have learned through this article will help you to express yourself as a native with the locals, and will give you the chance to connect with the Italian people you will meet.
Do you want to learn Italian?
We are sure that the Italian expressions and the Italian slang that you have learned so far will be really useful to you! If you plan to continue or start studying Italian, we recommend that you start taking courses or lessons on VocApp. With this application and its website, you can create an account that gives you access to professional language courses to learn Italian in a fun and effective way. If you want to learn more expressions in Italian or more Italian slang, you can have a look at the Roman Slang course.
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