I’ve got a few questions for you.
But you gotta be real with me.
Have you been taking the bull by the horns with your Italian studies, but still struggle to understand conversations?
Have you really been hitting the books, only to discover that all that formal, textbook Italian made you think your head was going to explode?
If that’s the case, then it’s time to learn some Italian slang!
What You’ve Gotta Know About Italian Slang
While learning formal Italian is infinitely useful and essential to learning the language, it’s only about 75 percent useful in everyday Italian situations—especially ones that occur outside textbooks and classrooms!
Most Italian speakers follow the grammatical rules prescribed in Italian textbooks and grammar guides, but vocabulary is a whole other domain. Informal, everyday speech is often full of slang. This slang is something often ignored in courses and study programs. They want you to learn how to speak in a polished, polite and proper way. However, knowing slang and informal speech is absolutely essential to understanding what’s being said by natives.
Lucky for you, slang and informal language is relatively finite. 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 “amazeballs” or “on fleek” will very likely become tomorrow’s “eat my shorts” or “fo’ shizzle” (if they haven’t already).
In an attempt to avoid that problem, we’ll talk about slang words and phrases that have stood up well over time. They’re informal—yet not necessarily trendy or faddish—additions to la bella lingua (the beautiful language).
25 Italian Slang Words to Help You Hit a Bullseye with Your Slangshot!
These top 25 most used and most useful Italian slang words and phrases will make your Italian totally sick!
Just keep in mind that most of these phrases are idiomatic. They have meanings that are figurative, which means that they shouldn’t be taken literally.
For each phrase, I’ll give you an explanation and an example of the slang phrase in context.
1. Essere nelle nuvole
Our first Italian slang phrase is one that translates almost directly in English. Essere nelle nuvole means “to be in the clouds” or, in regular English slang, “to have one’s head in the clouds,” meaning that someone is distracted or aloof. Check it out in context:
A: Sei stanco? (Are you tired?)
B: No, perché? (No, why?)
A: Sei nelle nuvole! (You’ve got your head in the clouds!)
2. Prendere la palla al balzo
While our second slang phrase, prendere la palla al balzo, literally translates to “to take the ball at the bounce,” this phrase actually means something closer to “to take the bull by the horns.” That means that someone is taking control of a situation or seizing an opportunity.
Vorrei che tu prendi la palla al balzo quando fai il tuo lavoro.
(I want you to take the bull by the horns with your work.)
3. Che palle!
Speaking of balls, we come to our next slang expression, che palle! It translates literally to “what balls!” but means “what a pain in the behind!” Actually, we have a similar slang phrase in English, so be careful of your company when you use this phrase—grandma might not be too 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
Another Italian slang expression that translates almost perfectly into English is amore a prima vista. It literally translates to “love at first sight” and describes a situation where people fall in love at their first encounter.
A: Quando ho incontrato Gianni, era amore a prima vista.
(When I met Gianni, it was love at first sight.)
B: Che bello! (How beautiful!)
5. Una guastafesta
Our next slang word doesn’t translate into English as smoothly, but the concept is there.
The word guastafesta is actually the combination of two Italian words: the verb guastare, which means “to spoil” or “to ruin,” and the word festa, which means “party.” Put those two together and we get the English “party-pooper,” or someone who refuses to participate in or ruins fun situations because they’re grumpy. Check it out:
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
Our next Italian slang phrase doesn’t have a direct equivalent in English, but it does have the same concept.
Mettere il carro davanti ai buoi literally translates to “to put the carriage in front of the oxen” and is the equivalent to “put the cart before the horse.” As it does in English, this phrase refers to an action that isn’t done correctly or is done unconventionally or out of order.
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 putting the cart before the carriage).
This next slang word is probably the most common Italian slang word (aside from Mamma mia) and 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. A fagiolo
In Italian, fagiolo means “bean,” and the phrase a fagiolo (“at a bean”) means the English expression “to the letter” or “to a T.” This often indicates precision. Let’s see it in action:
A: Ho saputo questa materia a fagiolo!
(I knew the subject to a T!)
B: Ma come? Non hai passato l’esame.
(But how? You failed the exam.)
9. Non fai scumbari
As far as I know, this next slang phrase has no literal translation in English and has origins in southern Italian dialect, so it may not be commonly used in all parts of the country. The phrase non fai scumbari means something along the lines of “stop embarrassing me,” and it’s hard not 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, this means “I don’t know.” In fact, Boh! can often express more than a simple lack of knowledge about a subject. It also conveys a particular disinterest in the conversation. In that way, it can 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
Our next slang phrase a little bit of a better translation into English.
Cogliere in castagna literally translates to “to pick a chestnut,” but it has the English meaning of “to catch someone red-handed” or to 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!)
The Italian slang word figurati comes from the verb figurare which means “to be present” or “to appear.” Despite that, this slang exclamation means “don’t worry about it” or “it’s nothing” indicating that someone 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.)
13. Avere le mani in pasta
While there seems to be a lack of a slang phrase for this in English, the Italian avere le mani in pasta literally translates to “having ones hands/fingers in the pie/pies,” and it refers to someone who is involved in someone else’s affairs in either a positive or negative sense.
A: Come ottiene Gianni questo posto all’azienda?
(How did Gianni get that job at the company?)
B: Ha le mani in pasta… (He’s well connected…)
Our next word is a hard one to pin down. While magari literally translates as “maybe” or “if only,” it’s used in informal situations very often to express a desire for the improbable.
A: Forse Gianni cuoca il pesce per noi.
(Maybe Gianni will cook fish for us).
B: Magari! (If only!)
15. Come il cacio sui maccheroni
Our next slang phrase literally translates to “like sheep’s milk cheese on the macaroni,” and it’s like the English “just what the doctor ordered,” describing a perfect solution or situation.
Che bellissimo! Questo vino è come il cacio sui maccheroni!
(How beautiful! This wine is just what the doctor ordered!)
16. Mangiare cadaveri
While this next Italian slang expression has a pretty dark translation, it actually makes a lot of sense, and I wish we had it in English. Mangiare cadaveri literally translates to “to eat dead bodies,” but it means “to have bad breath.” How wonderfully to the point!
Lavati i denti! Mangi cadaveri!
(Brush your teeth! You have bad breath).
17. Mi fa cagare!
This next slang phrase has a sort of confusing literal translation, and it even includes a swear word.
Mi fa cagare literally means “it makes me poop.” However, it means something more along the lines of “it’s terrible!” Be careful though: 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!)
This simple slang word translates to “Give!” in English, but it has the meaning of “Come on!” This can be used in many situations in English, and those same situations can use dai! in Italian.
A: Potrei uscire con te stasera?
(Can I go out with you tonight?)
B: Ah, Gianni. Che sorpresa! Si! Dai!
(Ah, Gianni. What a surprise! Yes! Come on!)
19. Meno male!
This slang phrase, like dai, has a literal translation that’s different from its actual meaning. Meno male literally translates to “less bad,” but means “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
For a super-literal slang phrase, the verb beccare translates to “to peck,” and this slang phrase means “to hit on someone.”
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!)
21. Mollare qualcuno
For this slang phrase, mollare translates to “to release,” and this phrase means “to dump someone” or to call off a romantic relationship.
Devo mollare mio ragazzo. Mangia cadaveri!
(I have to dump my boyfriend. He had bad breath!)
22. Essere un po’ di fuori
Essere un po’ di fuori literally translates to “to be a little outside” and it’s used to describe someone who’s strange or wacky. Check it out in context.
A: Perché ami Gianni? Lui è un po’ di fuori.
(Why do you like Gianni? He’s a little wacky.)
B: Boh! È simpatico.
(I don’t know. He’s nice.)
23. Fuori come un balcone
Speaking of the outside, fuori come un balcone literally translates to “outside like a balcony,” but this phrase means “out of one’s mind”, “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 sale e pepe
In Italian, if someone is tutto sale e pepe (“all salt and pepper”), it means that they’re fun to be around and happy.
Gianni, ti amo anche se tu non è sempre tutto sale e pepe.
(Gianni, I love you even though you are not always fun to be around).
25. Vivere alla giornata
Our last slang expression is vivere alla giornata, which literally translates to “to live during the day.”
While it might seem like an expression that means “to take it one day at a time,” it actually means “to live hand to mouth,” as in being poor.
Gianni è difficile perché la sua famiglia è vissuto alla giornata.
(Gianni is difficult because his family lived hand to mouth.)
More Resources to Learn About Italian Slang Words and Informal Italian
If you enjoyed this list, then trust me, there are hundreds of other slang expressions in Italian. Why not learn more of them?
Dai! It’s time to learn your Italian slang a fagiolo!
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