American in Italy, italy, language

11 Italian Words, Phrases and Expressions That I am Thankful For

Just like that, it’s already Thanksgiving.

I am currently in our living room, snuggled up with a cozy blanket, sipping a cappuccino and pretending like this isn’t a normal work day in Italy when it in all actuality it isand yes, I still have to work.

Truth be told, I have lost the desire to celebrate most American holidays since moving to Italy ten years ago — but Thanksgiving has always felt like something sacred. If you ignore Black Friday, the day itself is much less commercial than the gift-buying frenzy other days represent. It’s something Italians can stand behind because it includes food.

This is the time to embrace potlucks, burping contests, and embracing good vibes and food comatose with your family and friends.

Turkey day in Florence has always included a pleasant mix of people from all over the world for us, this in itself is something I am forever grateful for, the chance to celebrate together with close friends who keep me open-minded and have become like family over the years.

Last year I wrote about what I was grateful to Italy for and so to continue the theme around my adopted country, this time I am focusing on words, phrases and expressions that have woven their way into our vocabulary and that honestly, I can’t really live without.

In the spirit of sharing, I’d love to hear which words, expressions you adore if you speak a second language.

Maybe they doesn’t translate perfectly into your first language and that’s why you love itor perhaps you are just beginning to learn and these words are the ones that stick the longest in your brain. In any case, comment, share and enjoy! PS. Don’t miss this post on 19 embarrassing mistakes easy to make in Italiano.

On an entirely unrelated note (you know how I love to ramble) I want take the time to say that I am grateful for you guys for reading and supporting this blog. When I get emails or messages saying that Girl in Florence has been helpful in their trip to Florence, France, Thailand, Mexico or has served as a support system something they love in this city in some way, that is quite frankly what keeps me motivated to continue this passion project.

You guys rock, punto basta.

15 words, expressions and phrases I have Italy to blame thank.


  1. Magari. [I wish, I hope, if only, maybe]. A word with more to it than you would think, I use this all of the time. On one hand, it is often used to express a desire, on the other hand it also can be used more as a “perhaps or maybe.” This post offers a good explanation on its different meanings.
  2. Non avere peli sulla lingua. [to make no bones about it] – it literally means to have no hair on your tongue. This Italian idiom describes someone who doesn’t hold anything back aka has no filter. You also might ask someone this in order for them to give their brutally honest opinion about any subject, which Florentines are usually pretty happy to do.
  3. Boh [I don’t know – I have no idea]. A word so simple, succinct and useful, it is namely used to describe confusion on a subject — or my favorite, to show a lack of actually caring or even “I know but I am not going to tell you.”
  4. Che figata! [expression to say “How cool” or “what a cool thing”] it’s great to be able to express your moments and who doesn’t love a healthy dose of Italian slang. Fico actually means fig while “figo” is cool. This is a great way to describe your appreciation on the “coolness” of any given situation or thing (I just saw George Clooney or learned how to fold orecchiette for the first time) — but be careful because anytime the word “fig” is involved, it also can be confused for a certain female body part.
  5. Conosco i miei polli [I know my chickens] another idiom that I absolutely adore, this is often used to say “I know who I am dealing with”. I am sure it has its roots in poultry farming, duh, but now it really is an everyday fun phrase especially useful to convince people you know what you are talking about. Chickens apparently are the most easy to understand species if you get my drift. If you really want to turn on the charm, begin the phrase with a long “ehhhhh, conosco I miei polli” with a sly wink.
  6. Figurati! [Don’t worry about it, you are very welcome – don’t mention it ]. Oh, how I love this phrase, fun to say and sometimes a nice ego boost or way to nicely say you are welcome. Perhaps someone profusely thanks you for sharing your last Kinder Buono, you might utter a nice “figurati” to say “don’t mention it bro” while really thinking “that Kinder Bueno was from last Christmas and it was melting in my pocket.” You get me, right?
  7. Ma Che Scherzi davvero! [you got to be kidding me? You joking?] I’m not sure I am entirely translating this well but I happen to use this phrase quite a lot from my days living with a Tuscan family when I learned many wrong ways to say things in countryside slang. Scherzo itself means a joke so in my mind this phrase loosely means “you are kidding me” in an aghast way or “don’t worry about it – “figurati” style. As soon as I say this, people know I learned Italian in Florence/Toscana.
  8. Basta [enough is enough, stop]. Kid kicks your seat on the plane continuously for 30 minutes, you might be annoyed enough to utter a stern “basta” or “enough” to get the point across. At the market and someone is adding something to your order, “basta” explains when they need to stop.
  9. Dai [come on…. Stop] Another fun, easy word that is important in the Italian language to express “come on” to a friend who isn’t committing to an activity to helpfully prod them to your side. Like having one last drink at midnight, come on bro, just sip your grappa like a man. Used also to say “stop it” when you are beginning to get annoyed. I use “dai and basta” a lot because I also have a dog that tries to eat my socks.
  10. Che Schifo! [How disgusting!] This might be most appropriate when you walk into any public bathroom in Italy and see that someone has left you an unwelcome surprise OR you see an action/behavior you don’t approve it, like anything Berlusconi has done with women ever.
  11. Meno Male! [thank god] also an everyday phrase that literally means “less bad” but actually means thank god. Perhaps you’ve found the Fi-Pi-Li highway free of traffic on a Friday night because you left at 4pm instead of 6pm, “meno male” you had that good sense ;-). Or you just took the Italian driver’s test and passed the written portion the first time, you might utter a “meno male” at the fact that you were antisocial for a month studying for this insane exam.

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13 Comment

  1. Avatar
    23.11.2017 at 10:44

    For some reason, I always thought that “figurati” meant “go figure” or something and I’ve used it wrong for years. It took a slightly embarrassing exchange of messages with an italian cousin of a cousin to figure it out 😛

    Also, when my nephew was merely months of age (maybe a year), he was sitting in his baby chair eating, when suddenly he picked up his spoon like a wand (baby spoons these days, my goodness), pointed it at my sister and said “Dai! Dai! Dai!” to which my sister responded “I sincerely hope you’re speaking italian and not english, you little wizard”

    Nice list 🙂

    1. Avatar
      23.11.2017 at 12:08

      I could see where you would think that and honestly it is quite common to only find out when a well-meaning friend points out your error. That’s so funny about the word “dai” I’ve often thought the same thing about how often we use it and how English speakers might be a little put off if they didn’t understand the context.

    2. Avatar
      05.12.2017 at 17:36

      Ahahaha Maria, I’m Italian and the “dai dai dai” situation really made me laugh! 😀 bilingual kids are so much fun!

  2. Avatar
    23.11.2017 at 19:27

    Happy Thanksgiving, my dear friend! Mi manchi tantissimo! Spero di rivederti l’anno prossimo!!!

  3. Avatar
    pirooz pkdel
    24.11.2017 at 7:01

    Scherzi is not really indicative of having learned Italian in any one particular region. I learned it in Napoli. Clear on the other extreme of the country and have heard it in Genova, Liguria region and most other places around the country. Agreed, however, It is an extremely useful word. Your list is really good!

    1. Avatar
      24.11.2017 at 10:26

      Thanks for your perspective, you are correct that “scherzi” is a general word but when you say “Mah che scherzi davvero” I have heard this is more used in Toscana, I could be wrong of course. Thanks for enjoying the list.

  4. Avatar
    24.11.2017 at 7:33

    Beh mah dai

    1. Avatar
      24.11.2017 at 10:25

      haha! Good one

  5. Avatar
    25.11.2017 at 8:46

    Grazie Georgette for referring to my blog!

    1. Avatar
      26.11.2017 at 11:43

      You are very welcome Serena, I really enjoy your blog, keep up the great work!

  6. Avatar
    21.12.2017 at 9:22

    Thanks for reminding me why I love the Italian language. And you didn’t even mention the ‘bad’ words which are great at expressing anger, frustration and stress. I’m a big fan of ‘sticazzi’ but maybe you can cover those in another post.

  7. Avatar
    Allan Shewchuk
    22.12.2017 at 4:45

    Ciao Georgette. You forgot “Accidenti!!!” One of my faves….

    1. Avatar
      03.01.2018 at 23:27

      SO true, I would have absolutely added that word to the list… ACCIDENTI

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