Girl in Florence

A Tuscan Texan immersed in Florentine life

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.


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’.

Related Posts

51 Responses

  1. 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!

      1. LOL! Great site, Georgette! My son is teaching my grandchildren (ages 6 and 4) the game scopa and it is really cute to hear them call out “scopa.” I’m sure he is aware of the double meaning – having spent a semester in Florence in ’03 – but I have sent him the link to your page just as a precaution.

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

  3. 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!

    1. eccitato is pretty bad, I used to say it all of the time before someone politely corrected me. awkward INDEED

  4. 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!

    1. hahahahhahaa that just made me spit my coffee out. You should take a look at the french word for swimming pool (hint* it sounds like ‘pissing’)

      1. 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. 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. 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.


    1. lol I find that this conversation usually bonds us Italian as a second language together. I cannot even imagine how many times even in the past year I have made just really embaressing mistakes.. woops!

  7. 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’ 🙂

    1. hahahahhahhahahah yep I bet he was thinking.. well I guess that trip to Polonia is out of the question 😉

  8. 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. 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.

    1. 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. 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.

    1. 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. 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!!!

    1. 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. 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!!!

    1. 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. 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. 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.

    1. I burst out laughing when I read this because this is so so common to mistake (I have said it on a number of occasions!). I’m sure she understood what you were trying to say 😉

  15. 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.

  16. I still avoid saying how much I love figs, but unfortunately I also have trouble with the correct pronunciation of “persimmons” in Italian. It’s dangerous territory there too!

  17. This is such a fun topic! Love it! And I never talk about sweeping — – – EVER. and pens? No way…

    I admit I only learned about the broom a few years ago (although I have been living here 9 years now). My Australian friend had to explain it to me. 🙂

  18. Oh gosh, I accidentally offended a good catholic boy in Italy, as we were dividing the chores, holding the broom out to him asking “vuoi scopare?”. The entire room ground to a halt. Thankfully eventually all dissolved into laughter and it was forgotten!

    1. Hi there, Italian guy here. 🙂
      (I’m from Rome and currently living in Ireland)

      This article and the comments on it are AWESOME 😀 but I need to make you aware that there are a few mistakes in your article and I won’t tell you which ones because I’ll rather have fun thinking about you frantically trying to avoid danger zones and making embarrassing “brutte figure”. 😛

      Have fun! 🙂

  19. As far as English also being unforgiving…
    My fiancé is from Vicenza and was here in Texas training with our military. On our way to his first MLB game (also one of our first dates) he was trying to say that he was “unique” regarding something, and unfortunately he put the emphasis on the wrong syllable and said that he was “eunuch”.. I just stared at him for about two blinks before I started laughing. Bless his heart, when I explained to him what he really said, he turned the deepest shade of red I’d ever seen! Though I’m sure he will get the chance to get back at me and laugh at my expense soon, as I am in the process of learning Italian and preparing for the big move!

    1. Awww that poor guy! My ex boyfriend used to always use the word ‘rubber’ to describe an eraser until I told him it had an awkward double meaning. Good luck on the big move! Just avoid words like ‘fig’ and you should be fine 😉

  20. I have been living in North Italy coming up three years in July but for the first year no bugger told me I was ordering Angry Penis whenever I ordered penne arribiata. The embarrassment when I was flipping through my phrasebook for another word and found pene/penne in the dictionary section.

  21. I was in a similar situation with girlfriends parent at a restaurant and they understood me to have said “urino” instead of “ordino”. A solid false cognate is preservativo. Which I thought would be like preservatives in food but turned out to be “condom”. Yay for language hiccups!

    1. hahah it happens to us all dan, I’ve probably said urine a fair amount of inappropriate times as well. Preservatives is SUCH an easy mistake to make…

  22. I had bought an ostensorio in Palermo and told my new in-laws that I’d bought a stronzatorio.
    A bunch of eyes widened. The silence was deafening until it was explained what I meant to say.

  23. My Italian grandfather couldn’t find his eyeglasses until we said they were in his shirt pocket. He laughed at his forgetfulness. So I tried to say in Italian, “Are you feeling stupid today?” But it came out, “Are you feeling testicles today?” The silence was deafening.

Georgette Jupe

Welcome to my personal blog by a curious American girl living and working between Zug, Switzerland and Florence, Italy with my husband Nico, our newborn Annabelle and Ginger the beagle. This space is primarily to share about my love for Italy (currently on a 13 year romance) with a fair amount of real talk, practical advice, travel suggestions and adjusting to a new culture (Switzerland). Find me on IG @girlinflorence @girlinzug

recent post
Lonely Planet

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.