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20 Italian slang expressions for everyday conversations

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italy wellness

Ciao amici! Planning a trip to Italy?

Want to make Italian friends and charm the locals with your linguistic prowess all while keeping your travel squad entertained? Keep reading as we dive into the world of speaking Italian slang where words are as lively as the streets of Rome!

We spoke to our expert Trip Manager, Umberto, who gave us all the best Italian slang terms! Get ready to impress your English friends by sprinkling your conversations with these 20 must-know Italian slang expressions!

1. Mamma Mia

A quintessential expression of any native Italian speaker. “Mamma Mia” is a go-to exclamation for a myriad of emotions: happy, sad, frustration, you name it! It can be like saying, “Oh my goodness!”, “Ouch!” “Not again…” or “Wow!” 

Picture this… You’re strolling through the enchanting streets of Florence, and suddenly, the gelato you’re holding, melts in the scorching heat, and falls flat on the cobblestones. Cue a dramatic “Mamma Mia!” and watch your friends burst into laughter at the sheer theatricality of your reaction!

group of friends meeting abroad

Image source:Contiki

2. Stare con le mani in mano

This expression literally translates “to stay with your hand in your other hand”. This phrase is used to describe someone who is idle or not doing anything productive. Italians say this to encourage action and discourage laziness!

Imagine this… You’re waiting in line for the iconic Colosseum, and your friend is glued to their phone! You can use this saying, nudge them and say: “Non stare con le mani in mano!” Translation: “Don’t just stand there with your hands in your hands!”

It’s the perfect way to encourage your friends or fellow travellers to be an active part of the adventure!

3. Pietro torna indietro

Meaning “Peter, go back!” This phrase is used when someone is getting on your nerves or annoying you. It’s a playful way to ask them to step back.

We like to say on Contiki: “travellers start as strangers, become friends and leave as a family,” and it wouldn’t be a true family if there wasn’t a moment where this phrase was necessary. Keep it in mind for a lighthearted way of telling someone to give you some space!

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4. In bocca al lupo

This is a commonly used expression to wish someone good luck, “In bocca al lupo” translates to “In the mouth of the wolf.” There is two ways to respond to this, either: “crepi” (meaning ‘may it die’ because the wolf is supposed to be an evil animal, so saying that means you’ll avoid any danger) or “lascialo vivere” (‘let it live’, which links to the famous Roman legend of the she-wolf who saved Romulus and Remus).

As your travelling buddies are about to try some daring local delicacies, gearing up for a gondola rise or preparing to sing karaoke in Florence, throw out a confident “In bocca al lupo!” to share your well wishes with them and give them a boost of moral support!

5. Avere la luna storta

Its translation means “to have the crooked moon.” This phrase describes someone in a bad mood or with a sour disposition. Italians believe that a crooked moon can affect one’s mood, just how many people believe that different moon phases affect people differently! 

Feeling the heat in peak Italian summer? Lines for the major attractions taking forever? Feeling that someone in the group is in a bit of a mood? Playfully suggest, “Forse hai la luna storta,” to imply that maybe their bad mood is due to the crooked moon. It’ll be a more lighthearted way to diffuse the tension and get everyone smiling again!

St Peter's Basilica, Vatican, Italy

Image source:Contiki

6. Avere la coda di paglia

“Having a tail of hay.” This expression is used when someone is feeling guilty or uneasy about something, usually with a guilty conscience. It implies that the person is on edge, in fear of being revealed or caught out! This comes from the mediaeval period where people were made to go around with a tail made of hay if they committed a crime. This was a form of humiliation which exposed their guilt, leaving them fearful because at any time, someone could burn their tail! 

Caught someone acting guilty? Give them a knowing look and tease, “Hai la coda di paglia!” Watch their reaction as they try to figure out how they got caught with a “tail of straw.”

7. L’abito non fa il Monaco

A translation to “the clothes do not make the monk.” This came about during the mediaeval period, where many pilgrims were monks, recognisable by their clothing. Wherever they went, the monks had special treatments, so people started to dress like one to receive the same privileges under false pretences. The Italian slang “L’abito non fa il Monaco” emphasises that appearances can be deceiving. It’s an Italian way of reminding people not to judge others solely based on their outward appearance. 

Travelling with someone who is stressing over what to wear? Keep them grounded and remind them that “l’abito non fa il Monaco”. Italians like to say “the clothes do not make the monk,” but I like to say “the clothes do not make the experience.” When you look back on your trip, no one will remember what you wore or how you dressed, but the memories you made and experiences you had together.

8. Abbiamo fatto 30, facciamo 31

“We did 30, let’s do 31!” This ancient phrase encourages going the extra mile and surpassing expectations. It’s a call to continue pushing forward and exceeding one’s own limits.

The origin of this saying dates back to 1517 when Pope Pius X created a new list of cardinals by inserting 12, which then became 20, then 28 and then 30 despite the opposition of the old cardinals. The day after, however, he even added another (it was rumoured that the 31st was a good pal of the Pope), and then Pius X exclaimed: “So much is 30 that 31”. From that moment on the saying underwent several changes until reaching the current version of “abbiamo fatto 30, facciamo 31″ or “we did 30, let’s do 31″ a.k.a. there’s always room for more!

Use this phrase to encourage the creation of more incredible memories through all the experiences travelling has to offer! 

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9. Dalle stelle alle stalle

“From the stars to the stables.” This Italian phrase is often used to describe sudden decline in fortune. The stars in the sky, are the highest point, something beautiful and divine, whereas the stables are instead, dirty and not ideal, used as a metaphor of a low point. 

Picture this: You’re enjoying a lavish Italian feast, and suddenly, someone spills their wine on their outfit. This is the perfect opportunity to exclaim, “Dalle stelle alle stalle!” a humorous way to acknowledge a misfortunate turn of events.

girls eating gelato in Italy

Image source:Contiki

10. E’ entrato da un orecchio ed è uscito dall’altro:

Literally meaning “It went in one ear and out the other” (a phrase I am sure you’ve heard many times before). This phrase is used to describe someone who didn’t pay attention or didn’t retain information.

There’s always someone  a bit of crucial information. They forgot the meeting point. Missed the departure time. When this happens, lighten the mood by saying, “È entrato da un orecchio ed è uscito dall’altro” to remind them to pay attention in a playful way!

11.  Avere il coltello dalla parte del manico

In English, this saying “to have the knife by the handle,” means having control of a situation. When travelling things can, do and will go wrong, but that is half the fun! 

Planning an Italian day trip itinerary? Make sure to declare confidently, “Oggi abbiamo il coltello dalla parte del manico!” (Today, we have the knife by the handle.) It’s a fun way to say you’re in control and ready for whatever adventures come your way!

12. Avere le mani bucate

Know someone who is a spendthrift or can’t hold onto money? “Avere le mani bucate” is the saying for them! It means “to have holes in the hands.” It suggests that money slips through their fingers!

Heading to the markets for some souvenir shopping? Warn your friends, “Attenzione, abbiamo le mani bucate!” (Watch out, we have holes in our hands!) Use this for a humorous acknowledgement that the group might be about to spend a little too freely.

13. Stare in buone mani

You may not necessarily use this one yourself, but if you hear someone say ‘stare in buone mani’ they are telling you to trust them as you are ‘in good hands’!

Trusting a local guide to show you around, to see the best of the best, and learn some interesting facts along the way? Express your confidence in them by saying, “Siamo in buone mani!” (We are in good hands!) It’s a reassuring phrase that not only compliments your guide, but adds a touch of humour (especially if things go a little off plan).

travellers eating Italian food

Image source:Contiki

14. Va Bene

“Va bene” (translating to “it’s okay” or “alright”) is a common, versatile expression used to convey agreement, approval, or assurance. It’s a go-to phrase for indicating that everything is fine or going well according to plan.

Imagine this: You’re not-so-confidently coordinating plans and navigating Italy with your travel squad, but everything seems to be falling into place. Channel your inner Italian and declare with a flourish, “Va bene!” Say it with gusto to appear as the mastermind of the group, and guide everyone with confidence!

15. Che Figata

This expression is an exclamation of excitement or admiration, similar to saying “How cool!” or “That’s awesome!” It’s used to express enthusiasm about something impressive or enjoyable. From the charming streets of Florence to the picturesque Amalfi Coast, this expression won’t go astray in almost every corner of the country!

When you stumble upon the Colosseum for the first time, witness a breathtaking Tuscan sunset or catch your first glimpse of the leaning tower of Pisa, that calls for a collective “Che figata!” Use this as your go-to exclamation for those jaw-dropping, bucket list, core memory moments.

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16. Il Cacio Sui Maccheroni

This metaphorical expression is used to describe a perfect fit or something that complements another element flawlessly. Italian translation: “The cheese on the macaroni (like our English saying “the cherry on top”).

I can guarantee you’ll have many ‘pinch me’ perfect moments in Italy, that this saying is one you’ll be saying on repeat! It might be when you find the perfect gelato, sip some Italian wine as you watch the sunset over the rolling hills, or enjoy the rhythmic rocking along the canals of Venice coupled with the serenading gondoliers. It is in these moments you can declare “Il cacio sui maccheroni!” 

17. Amore a Prima Vista

Something caught your eye during one of your Italian encounters? “Amore a prima vista” is used to describe an immediate and intense romantic attraction for something experienced for the first time. It’s a way of expressing love or infatuation right from the start, much like ‘love at first sight’.

Bit of a foodie? Imagine exploring the enchanting streets of Venice and suddenly you stumble upon a quaint café with the most delectable cannoli. It’s amore a prima vista – love at first sight! Don’t forget to share the sentiment with your friends, and soon, you’ll all be indulging in the sweet ecstasy of Italian desserts!

Atrani on the Amalfi Coast in Italy

Image source:Contiki

18. Fai Scumbari

“Fai scumbari” translates to “You’re making things interesting.” It’s a way to appreciate someone for bringing excitement or spontaneity to a situation. It usually acknowledges and encourages unconventional or unexpected ideas.

Sometimes no plans are the best plans! And sometimes the best plans are the unsuspecting plans. If someone in the group suggests taking a detour off the beaten path or comes up with a random idea, give them a nod of approval and declare, “Fai scumbari!” and appreciate their spontaneity which may likely add a touch of adventure to your travels!

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19. Vivere alla Giornata

“Living day by day.” This phrase embraces the philosophy of taking life as it comes, living in the present moment, and not worrying too much about the future. It embodies a carefree and spontaneous approach to life.

Someone stressing about their future travel plans? Embrace the Italian philosophy of ‘vivere alla giornata’ – live in the moment, and remind your group that sometimes, the best moments are the unplanned ones that unfold organically. 

20. Sono Cavoli Miei 

These Italian words literally translate to “they are my cabbages.” It is not literally referring to wanting or having cabbages; in actual fact, but rather it has nothing to do with veggies and is used to tell others to mind their own business, or that someone else’s problems or ideas are not their concern.

Picture this: Your travel team is debating where to have dinner in Rome. Everyone has an opinion, the discussion is getting a bit heated, so you seize the moment, throw your hands in the air and exclaim, “Sono Cavoli Miei!” 

In this context, you’re humorously declaring that everyone’s dinner choices are their own responsibility, and you’re not getting involved in the debate. You can use this as a comedic escape hatch to diffuse tension and bring a touch of Italian flair to the decision-making process. 

Next time you find yourself in the midst of a group decision, remember the magic words: “Sono Cavoli Miei!” – turning a potentially stressful situation into a moment of shared laughter and camaraderie.

While mastering the basics of Italian is essential for navigating the boot-shaped peninsula, learning these Italian slang expressions will add a touch of authenticity to your conversations and have you talking like a true Italian in no time!

…and don’t forget the iconic hand movements! Buona fortuna! (Good luck!)

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