Untranslatable Italian

A nation of crazy cat ladies. 7 untranslatable Italian words.

Miranda Lee

Miranda Lee

Hi, I'm Miranda! I studied French and Spanish at university and have spent time working in both France and South America. I spent last summer road-tripping Europe on a vintage double decker bus, to meet and film native speakers all over the continent! My next big language challenge is to learn Mandarin.
Miranda Lee

If we thought that Spain was all about sleeping, chilling out with friends and eating well, it’s actually Italy which pips the Spaniards to the post, and the language tells it all. From lazy walks to lounging on the sofa, from snoozing in the shade to snacking on free food, it’s no wonder the Italians are so happy!

Let’s take a look at seven truly Italian turns of phrase and what they tell us about the loud, fiery, pasta-loving romantics. Those of you who’ve visited or lived in Italy before will already be familiar with the first word on our list…

  1. apericena’. This is possibly the best concept, ever. The word is a cross between ‘aperitivo’ (aperitif) and ‘cena’ (dinner). It means, needless to say, that at the aperitif hour in bars across Italy, you’ll find a buffet of free food to accompany your pre-dinner snifter. You can get as much as you like, and go back as many times as you fancy. You’d think you wouldn’t need an actual dinner after all that, but for the Italians it’s the mere warm up to the main event!

 

  1. menefreghista’. This word stems from a phrase you may well have overheard during any travels in Italy – “Non me ne frega!” meaning “I don’t care!”. In fact, it’s uttered from Italian mouths so frequently that this term came about, used specifically to describe someone who, well, doesn’t care!

 

  1. pantofolaio’. This word loosely translates to our “couch potato”, though this doesn’t capture the real humour of the Italian term. It stems from the word ‘pantofole’ which means ‘slippers’ in Italian. As you can probably guess, it’s for someone who stays in their slippers all day long, preferring the quiet and inactive lifestyle – in short – a lazy fart!

 

  1. meriggiare’. Stemming from the word meriggio (meaning ‘noon’), this is a verb which sounds as beautiful as it means. Say it out loud (meh – ridge – ee – ahray) and you can easily imagine yourself resting peacefully at midday in a shady spot. (That’s what it means by the way). How wonderfully Italian to have a word just for that!

 

  1. gattara’. This word describes a certain type of woman, a type which exists in every country (and even in The Simpsons!). Strangely, there’s no single word to describe them in English. A “gattara” is a typically elderly woman who devotes all her time to looking after stray cats. Ohh yes, that type of woman.

 

  1. gatta morta’. Following on with the cat theme, this phrase literally translates to ‘dead cat’. But it has a much more interesting metaphorical sense, that is, a particularly flirtatious woman who is so enthralling and persuasive that she pounces on you as soon as she’s gained your trust.

 

  1. passeggiata’. This is a truly authentic Italian cultural ritual, and translates at best as ‘a slow, gentle stroll’ through the main pedestrianized streets of the centro storico (historic centre) or along the lungomare (seafront). It takes place as evening falls and the last rays of sunlight are tinting the buildings golden pink. The whole family gets involved, and the Italians tend even to get dressed up for the passeggiata (so when you’re rocking the shorts and sandals look, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb).

Let us know of any other wonderfully unique Italian words or phrases! Be sure to check out this post for some of our top Italian idioms and this one for some beginner phrases to get you started.

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Miranda Lee

Hi, I'm Miranda! I studied French and Spanish at university and have spent time working in both France and South America. I spent last summer road-tripping Europe on a vintage double decker bus, to meet and film native speakers all over the continent! My next big language challenge is to learn Mandarin.