25 Italian Slang Phrases to Make You Sound More Local
Have you been taking the bull by the horns with your Italian studies, but still struggle to understand conversations?
Perhaps what you’re missing is Italian slang.
These 25 Italian slang phrases will round out your vocabulary and help you understand native speakers better.
Plus you’ll sound more like a local yourself!
- 1. Avere la testa tra le nuvole
- 2. Prendere la palla al balzo
- 3. Che palle!
- 4. Amore a prima vista
- 5. Un/una guastafeste
- 6. Mettere il carro davanti ai buoi
- 7. Basta
- 8. Cadere a fagiolo
- 9. Non fai scumbari
- 10. Boh!
- 11. Cogliere in castagna
- 12. Figurati!
- 13. Avere le mani in pasta
- 14. Magari!
- 15. Come il cacio sui maccheroni
- 16. Mangiare cadaveri
- 17. Mi fa cagare!
- 18. Dai!
- 19. Meno male!
- 20. Beccare qualcuno
- 21. Mollare qualcuno
- 22. Essere (un po’) fuori
- 23. Fuori come un balcone
- 24. Tutto pepe
- 25. Vivere alla giornata
- What You’ve Gotta Know About Italian Slang
- More Resources to Learn About Italian Slang Words and Informal Italian
1. Avere la testa tra le nuvole
This Italian slang phrase is almost exactly the same as the English version.
Avere la testa tra le nuvole means “to have one’s head in the clouds.” As it does in English, this means that someone is distracted or aloof.
A: Sei stanco? (Are you tired?)
B: No, perché? (No, why?)
A: Hai la testa tra le nuvole! (You’ve got your head in the clouds!)
2. Prendere la palla al balzo
This phrase literally translates as “to take the ball at the bounce.”
It means something more like “to take the bull by the horns.” Someone is taking control of a situation or taking advantage of an opportunity.
Ho incontrato il capo d’azienda. Ho preso la palla al balzo, e ho chiesto per un lavoro.
(I met the boss of the company. I took advantage of the situation, and I asked for a job.)
3. Che palle!
Speaking of balls, che palle translates literally to “what balls.” It really means “what a pain in the behind!”
You probably know the more explicit English version of that phrase, which helps you say that something is annoying.
Be careful of your company when you use this Italian slang phrase—grandma might not be into it.
A: Ho perso il mio portafoglio e non posso uscire stasera.
(I lost my wallet and can’t go out tonight.)
B: Che palle! (What a pain!)
4. Amore a prima vista
Here’s another Italian slang expression that translates almost perfectly into English.
It literally translates to “love at first sight,” and describes people falling in love at their first encounter.
A: Quando ho incontrato Gianni, è stato amore a prima vista.
(When I met Gianni, it was love at first sight.)
B: Che bello! (How beautiful!)
5. Un/una guastafeste
Using un guastafeste refers males, and una gustafeste refers to females.
Gustafeste is actually the combination of two Italian words: the verb guastare (to spoil/ruin) and the word festa (party). Together, we get the English “party-pooper.”
So this Italian slang is used for someone who refuses to participate in or ruins fun situations because they’re grumpy.
A: Viene Gianni al cinema stasera?
(Is Gianni coming to the movies tonight?)
B: No, è irritato e una guastafesta.
(No, he’s irritated and a party pooper.)
6. Mettere il carro davanti ai buoi
Mettere il carro davanti ai buoi literally translates as “to put the carriage in front of the oxen”—equivalent to the English phrase “put the cart before the horse.”
As in English, this Italian slang phrase refers to an action that isn’t done correctly, or an action that is done unconventionally or prematurely.
A: Ho comprato una macchina! (I bought a car!)
B: Ma, perché? Non hai una patente! Metti il carro davanti ai buoi!
(Why? You don’t have a license! You’re acting prematurely).
This is probably the most common Italian word. It simply means “enough.”
Basta is used to put a stop to an undesirable situation or conversation.
A: Gianni, sei sempre irritato! Perché non vuoi uscire con me?
(Gianni, you’re always so irritated. Why don’t you want to go out with me?)
B: Basta! Sono stanco perché lavoro troppo!
(That’s enough! I’m tired because I work too much!)
8. Cadere a fagiolo
In Italian, cadere means “to fall” and fagiolo means “bean.”
The phrase cadere a fagiolo (“to fall at a bean”) is roughly equivalent to the English expression “perfect timing.”
L’esame cade a fagiolo. So bene questa materia.
(The exam came at the right time. I knew the material well.)
9. Non fai scumbari
As far as I know, this phrase has no literal English translation. It originated in the southern Italian dialect, so it may not be commonly used in all parts of the country.
Non fai scumbari means something along the lines of “stop embarrassing me.” (It’s easy to imagine a 16-year-old me saying this to my parents!)
A: Hai cambiato le tue banchiere intime oggi?
(Did you change your underwear today?)
B: Basta, Mamma! Non fai scumbari!
(Enough, Mom! Don’t embarrass me!)
Another untranslatable Italian slang word, boh basically means “I don’t know.”
In fact, it often expresses more than a simple lack of knowledge about a subject. It conveys a particular disinterest in the conversation.
It can, in a way, be translated as the English slang word “meh.”
A: Quando viene Gianni a casa mia?
(When is Gianni coming to my place?)
B: Boh! (I don’t know [and I don’t really care].)
11. Cogliere in castagna
Cogliere in castagna literally translates into English as “to catch in a chestnut.”
The meaning is something like “to catch someone red-handed,” or discover someone doing something bad while they’re doing it.
A: Ho colto Gianni in castagna quando l’ho visto al cinema senza me!
(I caught Gianni red-handed when I saw him at the movies without me!)
This Italian slang word comes from the verb figurare, which means “to be present” or “to appear.”
Despite that, it means “don’t worry about it” or “it’s nothing.”
It indicates that the other person shouldn’t concern themselves with a situation.
A: Mamma mia! Ho perso il mio portafoglio ancora. Non posso pagare il film!
(Oh, no! I lost my wallet again. I can’t pay for the movie!)
B: Figurati! Pago per te!
(Don’t worry about it! I’ll pay for you.)
Note that figurati can also mean “not at all.”
A: Ti disturbo?
(Am I disturbing you?)
B: Ma no, figurati!
(No, not at all!)
13. Avere le mani in pasta
Avere le mani in pasta literally translates to “having ones hands/fingers in the pie(s).”
This phrase refers to someone who is involved in another person’s affairs. It can have either a positive or negative sense.
A: Come ha ottenuto Gianni quel posto nell’azienda?
(How did Gianni get that job at the company?)
B: Ha le mani in pasta… (He’s well connected…)
This Italian slang word literally translates as “maybe” or “if only.”
However, magari is often used in informal situations to express a desire for the improbable.
A: Forse Gianni cucina il pesce stasera.
(Maybe Gianni will cook fish tonight).
B: Magari! (If only!)
15. Come il cacio sui maccheroni
This phrase literally translates to “like sheep’s milk cheese on the macaroni.”
It’s meaning is just like the English phrase “just what the doctor ordered.” It describes a perfect solution or situation.
Che meraviglia! Questo vino è come il cacio sui maccheroni!
(How beautiful! This wine is just what the doctor ordered!)
16. Mangiare cadaveri
This next Italian slang expression has a pretty dark translation, but it makes a lot of sense.
Mangiare cadaveri literally means “to eat dead bodies.” The intended meaning is “to have bad breath.”
How wonderfully to the point!
Lavati i denti! Mangi cadaveri!
(Brush your teeth! You have bad breath).
Note that this phrase may not be very common. Native Italian speakers generally use avere l’alitosi to mean “to have bad breath.”
17. Mi fa cagare!
Mi fa cagare literally translates to “it makes me poop.”
It means something more like “it’s terrible!”
Be careful with this Italian slang phrase. Cagare is a pretty bad word in Italian, the approximate equivalent of the “F-word” in English.
Mi sono schiantato con la macchina contro la casa! Mi fa cagare!
(I crashed the car into the house! It’s terrible!)
Dai! is “Give!” in English, but means “Come on!”
“Come on!” can be used in many situations in English, and those same situations can use dai! in Italian.
A: Non ho voglia di uscire stasera.
(I don’t want to go out tonight.)
B: Oh, Gianni. Dai! Ci divertiamo!
(Oh, Gianni. Come on! It’ll be fun!)
19. Meno male!
This slang phrase is another with a literal translation that differs from its actual meaning. Meno male literally translates to “less bad.”
What it means is “Thank God!” It’s used for expressing relief or gratitude.
A: Ho trovato il mio portafoglio! (I found my wallet!)
B: Meno male! (Thank God!)
20. Beccare qualcuno
Beccare qualcuno is a super-literal slang phrase. The verb beccare means “to peck,” and the slang phrase means “to hit on someone.”
This phrase is a bit outdated and not commonly used in this way by native Italian speakers anymore.
A: Voglio beccare questa donna.
(I want to hit on this woman.)
B: Mamma mia, Gianni. Non fai scumbari!
(My gosh, Gianni. Don’t embarrass me!)
Now, beccare qualcuno means “to catch someone.”
L’hanno beccato a rubare in un negozio.
(They caught him shoplifting.)
21. Mollare qualcuno
Mollare translates to “to release.”
This Italian slang phrase means “to dump someone” or to call off a romantic relationship.
Devo mollare mio ragazzo.
(I have to dump my boyfriend.)
22. Essere (un po’) fuori
Essere (un po’) fuori literally translates as “to be outside.”
It’s used to describe someone who’s strange or wacky.
A: Perché ami Gianni? Lui è (un po’) fuori.
(Why do you like Gianni? He’s (a little) wacky.)
B: Boh! È simpatico.
(I don’t know. He’s nice.)
Un po’ can be replaced with the words totalmente (totally) or completamente (completely) to change the degree of the phrase.
23. Fuori come un balcone
Speaking of the outside, fuori come un balcone literally translates to “outside like a balcony.”
It carries a similar meaning to #22. This Italian slang phrase means “out of one’s mind” or “off one’s rocker.”
Mamma mia! Gianni è fuori come un balcone e vuole beccare questa donna!
(Oh, gosh! Gianni is out of his mind and wants to hit on this woman.)
24. Tutto pepe
In Italian, if someone is tutto pepe (“all pepper”), they’re lively, happy and fun to be around.
This person could also be spicy, or what we might call “spunky.”
Gianni, ti amo anche se tu non sei sempre tutto pepe.
(Gianni, I love you even though you are not always lively).
25. Vivere alla giornata
Our last Italian slang expression is vivere alla giornata, which literally translates as “to live during the day.”
It means something close to the English expression “to take it one day at a time” or “to live in the moment.”
Gianni vive alla giornata. Non si preoccupa mai di nulla.
(Gianni lives by the day. He does not ever worry about anything.)
What You’ve Gotta Know About Italian Slang
Formal Italian is only about 75% useful in everyday situations. Informal, everyday speech is often full of slang.
Lucky for you, the same slang words are often used again and again, so much so that they become cliches.
Unlucky for you, however, is that slang can change at the drop of a hat—today’s English slang “no cap” will very likely become tomorrow’s “eat my shorts.”
The Italian slang words and phrases in this post have stood up quite well over time. They’re informal additions to la bella lingua (the beautiful language).
If you want to learn more Italian slang (as well as grammar, vocabulary and other important Italian goodies) consider learning with FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
More Resources to Learn About Italian Slang Words and Informal Italian
There are hundreds of other slang expressions in Italian. Why not learn more of them?
If you’re interested, you could always try a course. For example, Babbel offers courses in Informal Italian that could be perfect for you!
If you don’t want to join a course, watch some of the many YouTube videos about slang words and phrases or Italian idioms!
Dai! It’s time to learn your Italian slang!