italianwords

Beware of these Italian words

When anyone learns a new language – its invariable that they will often make mistakes early on. Some are fairly innocent, after all Italian has a lot of false cognates {words that seem similar to English words but aren’t, like camera which in Italian means room.} A fun conversation I like to have with my Italian-is-a-second-language friends is all of the really embarrassing mistakes we have made in public when trying to make conversation.

sunset

Example one {this is me}. In Italian you can imagine the plethora of opportunities to make anything sound sexual which is why you want to be careful when saying words like ‘scopa‘ or ‘uccello’ which mean broom and bird and also… other things. I was with my ex’s Florentine-as-can-be parents telling them some long-winded story about why I decided to live abroad and was trying to come across clever {mistake number one} by figuratively saying ‘escape my life etc…”

Well, the word ‘to escape’ in Italian happens to be scappare which I unfortunately mixed up with the word “scopare” – a very rude way to say ‘get laid”. Needless to say, they pretended no linguistic error was made while my ex rolled on the floor laughing.

You can bet my face resembled a red pomodoro for at least a few days after that!

To be quite honest, while I consider myself pretty fluent – there are several Italian words that I STILL don’t feel comfortable saying. Which include:

  • penna ( means ‘pen’ but spell is ‘pene’ and it means penis. So be very careful when pronouncing, really stress that second ‘n’ or you be asking for something you don’t really want!). Yes, I have asked for a bowl of ‘pene’ on more than one occasion. 
  • penne (a type of pasta but has the same problem as above).
  • la scopa (Italian word for broom or can be slang for ‘get laid.’)
  • uccello (Italian word for bird or … yet again penis).
  • fichi (means figs as in the fruit, but if pronounced singularly with an ‘a’ at the end instead of the proper ‘o’ it means a woman’s nether regions. lol)
  • Pisolino (cute word for nap in Italian BUT ‘pisello’ also means ‘small penis’ which is why I use my own very incorrect sonnolino instead) – unless you really want to insult your man!
  • Conservanti/preservativi (This is really evil. I know what it looks like – preservativi looks like preservatives right? WRONG, it actually means ‘condom’ so, you don’t want to say that you don’t like to eat food full of ‘condoms’ (unless perhaps you are a cast member on ‘My Strange Addictions’. Instead ‘conservanti’ is the actual word for preservatives.)
  • Scoraggiare/scoreggiare (scoraggiare means ‘don’t give up! How sweet! and scoreggiare is the verb ‘to fart’ well — they do say beans are the musical fruit!). So make sure to avoid telling someone to stop farting. Well unless that’s what you were going for.
  • Pecorino/pecorina (One means one of my favorite types of sheep cheese – pecorino (the best being from Pienza!), the other means sex, doggy-style: pecorina). So, just yeah well um, try to avoid that!).

Want to see more? Check out this funny post from Bleeding Espresso.  or The Local. 

Now it’s your turn, I also want to know what mistakes you have made while learning the beautiful Italian language? Don’t be shy! We have ALL made some crazy mistakes and quite honestly, it’s funny!

Plus let’s get real here, English can be pretty unforgiving  – just ask anyone who has needed a ‘rubber’ or ‘fannypack’.

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There are 40 comments

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  1. Cassandra

    Ahhh, I remember scappare vs. scopare all too well: When I was in Florence there was this creepy guy at a cafe who wouldn’t stop talking to me. So, in my rudimentary Italian, I told him I really had to leave. Or so I thought…oops!

  2. Lisa Kramer Taruschio

    As a close friend famously said, “Italian is the only language where you needn’t worry if they lei you.”

  3. Kirsteen

    This is hilarious; yep I too feel uncomfortable with all of the above! I never talk about figs, as much as I love them, for that exact reason! Also watch out for stressing that extra T in “petto” (chest) or else it becomes “peto” (again, fart). Oh, and while I’ve managed not to make this brutta figura myself, I once worked with an American intern who said he was “eccitato” about everything…. sooo awkward!

  4. Joe Ganci

    A friend of mine told me when she was attempting her rudimentary Italian in Italy, and wanted to ask if she could swim in the swimming pool, knowing the word for pool but not the word for swim, she tried her best at using a parallel. You swim in a swimming pool so she asked innocently whether “posso pisciare nella piscina?” She couldn’t figure out why the man responding was so angry!

      • Joe Ganci

        Glad I made you spit your coffee out! LOL
        (Sorry for the late reply!)
        Oui, je parle français aussi (un petit peu) et alors je connais le mot piscine! LOL

  5. bakeritalia

    OMG!!! I was just starting to think that maybe, maybe I could converse with my landlord……no way! You made me laugh and cringe at the same time. I WAS going to ask when the figs were ripe but that ain’t gonna happen LOL

  6. Pecora Nera

    Flipping heck, I dread to think how many times I have made the fichi & Pecorino/pecorina mistakes.

    Sometimes (actually every time) when I am talking with the locals, I watch as their eyes widen or they try to suppress a grin. I always thought it was because of my dreadful accent, but now I realise it is much worse than that.

    PN

  7. signorinadicracovia

    That was my first week, not knowing what ‘cazzo’ means but I thought I know this word well. ‘It must be ‘cat’ i belived without any doubt. So I was wandering with one italian in Florence describing my family and sudenly he stopped in disbelief when I said ‘…Ho cazzo a Polonia’ :)

  8. jessicamarantelli

    I once asked my good friend if he had an elevator instead of a lighter. Lets just say now all my italian friends ask me for elevators instead of lighters, or joke about haveing elevators in their pockets….even four years later

  9. Alla

    My girlfriend and I bought live in Tuscany, so we have a ball sharing stories of mispronounced phrases.

    My favorite is when my friend likes to wish a happy birthday to others.. Forgetting to stress the double “n” She tells her boyfriends little nephews “BUON COMPLEANO!!” with a grin on her face..meaning “happy asshole!!!”
    Buon Compleanno is happy birthday. Breware!

    My first week here while sitting with my boyfriends entire family for dinner. I asked his mom to “MI PASSI IL PENE”.. To pass me a penis.. They all burst out laughing.
    I meant, pass me the bread. PENE is penis, PANE is bread.

    • ggnitaly84

      So funny that you shared this because just the other day my boyfriend told me to be careful when I say ‘anno’ aka don’t say ‘ano’. And who hasn’t made the ‘pene’ mistake. That double ‘n’ is a KILLER!

  10. Susan

    Loved the article – there’s nothing worse than having a small Italian child laugh at your mistakes. It goes both ways, though. My Roman husband once asked for “a shit of paper” and has never attempted that one again. Also, for an Italian, “I’m hungry” comes out as “I’m angry”, so it’s nice to know they have problems too.

    • ggnitaly84

      a ‘shit of paper’ hahahah that sounds like a mistake my mother would make (she’s from Mexico originally). Its definitely something that can happen in any language. Ask any Italian for their experience with the word ‘rubber’.

  11. caro

    the first time as a Brit I heard Americans refer to bottoms as fannys, I got the serious case of the giggles, still cant hear it and keep a straight face. Fanny packs just make me laugh!!!

    • GirlInFlorence

      haha I know exactly what you mean, I made my first mistake when I was in England at 19 y/o throwing out ‘fanny pack’ like there is no tomorrow, I learned pretty quickly what it meant there :O. ;-)

  12. Annemiek

    Ah yes…. fico/fica…. I remember going to Sicily to visit a friend. I stayed with him, his mother and his sister, and one night after dinner I innocently asked the mother whether she wanted the other half of my fica…. She didn’t flinch but of course my friend told me later what I had actually asked his mom… Never made that mistake again!!!

    • GirlInFlorence

      Ooooo Annemiek, now that is a good one. I am super shy with that word on a ‘good’ day and honestly even though I say it in my head ten times, I still end up getting other fruits just to avoid asking for well, a woman’s body part ;-). I’m impressed how Italians don’t even blink an eye when you make mistakes like this.

  13. Miss Teaque

    Ah, yes, the words!
    Well… “Na Katso” means “to sit” in greek, sometimes as in “shall I sit here?”. I don’t need to tell you what “cazzo” means in italian. So, whenever myself and hubby-dearest go to a caffe I always ask him in greek “Na katso?” to which everyone turns around and stares.
    I mostly do it on purpose ;)

  14. Francine

    The first time I wrote to my Italian husband’s then 18-year old daughter, I wrote “sono molto eccitato ad incontrati!” I had no idea that my use of the word “eccitato” would be construed as me being SEXUALLY excited.

  15. Phil

    Regarding the difference between pecorino and pecorina, you advise avoiding pecorina. I wonder if you are advising us to avoid the inappropriate use of the word or the act. Not sure of your intent, I must say I will try to avoid the former and encourage the latter.


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