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Italian Without a Textbook


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by Carrie Osborn, Abbey Road staff

As with any language, sometimes the Italian that you hear spoken on the streets of Florence sounds like something entirely different from the simply structured, polite phrases you’ve memorized in your textbook back home.  Just think about how many phrases we use in our everyday lives that we’d probably have to spend a few minutes explaining to someone just learning English (“Like, OMG – this assignment is totally hard!  UGH”)…

With that in mind, I present some of my favorite key words, phrases, and idioms to get you started down la strada giusta to understanding Italian as it is actually spoken in Florence:

  • Cavolo!  = “Wow!”  (I still giggle about this literally meaning “cabbage” – it is not to be confused with cavallo, which means “horse”)
  • Non rompere = “Don’t be annoying” (My host sister Marta likes to say this one to me a lot.  It means “don’t break my…” – well, you can guess.  Along the same lines are sei un rompi – “you are so annoying” – and smetti di rompere – “stop being so annoying”)
  • Il coso = “the thing” (This is total slang Italian.  Just like in English when you can’t think of the real name for an object, machine, etc, and you refer to it as “the thing in that place that does the stuff” – that’s when you’d use il coso.)
  • Boh! = “I dunno!” (Boh is more of a sound that you make than an actual word.  Said in unison with an overly-dramatic shrug and a very confused facial expression, your point comes across perfectly.)
  • Ma dai = “Oh come on!  You can’t be serious.” (An expression of total exasperation, annoyance, disbelief.  You will hear this one a LOT.)
  • Ciccio = “Dude. Bro.” (Again, total slang.)
  • Sfigata = “Loser” (Think “dork” – this is the exact opposite of una figata – something or someone that’s really cool. Figo and ganzo are two other ways to say that something is totally awesome.)
  • Che me ne frega? = “What do I care?”
  • Secchione = “Overachiever. Good student. Really smart” (Connotation could potentially be negative or positive here.)
  • Basta! = “Enough!  That’s all!  Stop!”  (You’ll use this word a lot, in a variety of different situations.  It can be an angry basta to get someone to stop bothering you, or you can use it at the market when buying groceries – vorrei due chili di formaggio e basta – “I’d like 2 kilos of cheese, and that’s it.”)
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