Go Beyond “Ciao Bella”: 20+ Italian Slang Words & Expressions

Do you want Italians to take you as one of their own? Use these expressions. 🤌

Go Beyond “Ciao Bella”: 20+ Italian Slang Words & Expressions

When in Rome, do as Romans do, and use Italian slang words and expressions. No, really. If you’re learning the language and want the full Italian experience, Italian slang is a great way to get it. Slang and even expressions are like the “secret code” of a language, so they can make you feel right at home when you use them. Moreover, if you aim to learn Italian – and truly master it – you should embrace it all: slang words, expressions, idioms, and proverbs. So, let’s dive in!

Most Common Italian Expressions

  1. Non mi va. — I don’t feel like it.
  2. Sei fuori. — Your are out of your mind. (literally “You are out”)
  3. In bocca al lupo! — Good luck! (literally “In the mouth of the wolf”)
  4. Non vedo l’ora! — I can’t wait! (literally “I can’t see the hour”)
  5. Mi tocca (fare qualcosa). — I have to/I’m forced to (do something).
  6. Che pizza! — How boring!
  7. Non è male! — Not bad!
  8. Neanche per sogno! — Don’t even dream about it!
  9. Falla finita! — Stop it!
  10. Che ne so! — How should I know?

These are some of the most common Italian expressions you’ll encounter while in Italy. They are unique, humorous, and expressive – just like Italians themselves! I mean, who would have expected Italians to have an expression about pizza that means ‘boring’ when pizza is everybody’s favorite thing ever?

Before we move on, you need to understand that expressions, sayings, phrases, and idioms is that they are the salt and pepper of any language, not just Italian. And the best ones are, of course, those unique to the language you are learning. Why? Because they are the shortcut to making you sound more fluent.

Old Italian Expressions

  • Avere le braccine corte. To literally “have short arms”. This witty old Italian saying depicts stingy people, humorously suggesting their arms are too short to reach into their pockets!
  • Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco. “Not all donuts come with a hole”, which symbolizes that not everything in life goes according to plan, and that’s perfectly fine. Indeed, exploring these old Italian expressions is like uncovering hidden treasures, isn’t it?
  • Mettere una pulce nell’orecchio. “To put a flea in the ear”, which means “to plant an idea in someone’s head”. We’re basically talking about the Italian Inception, right? 😂
  • Tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare. “Between saying and doing, there is the sea.” Old Italian expressions are full of wisdom and this one’s no exception as it refers to the big difference between words and actions.
  • Una volta ogni morte di papa. This literally translates to “once every Pope’s death” and it means hardly ever as a pope dying doesn’t happen very often. The English counterpart would be “once every blue moon”.
  • Braccia rubate all’agricoltura. At first, this Italian expression appears innocuous as it literally means “Arms stolen from agricultural work”. Yet, it sarcastically refers to someone in an “intellectual” job who is clueless, humorously suggesting they might be more suited to farm work.
  • Prendere due piccioni con una fava. Interestingly enough, the literal translation of this Italian expression is “to catch two pigeons with one fava bean”, as opposed to our slightly more violent equivalent, “to kill two birds with one stone”.
  • Chi fa da sé fa per tre. “Whoever does it himself does it for three.” In other words, if you want it done well, it’s best to do it yourself.
  • Tocca ferro. While we “knock on wood” to ward off bad luck, Italians prefer to “touch iron”.

What’s your favorite Italian expression so far? Here’s a quick tip: sprinkle these expressions throughout your conversations without exaggerating. While using them can give the impression that you were born in Italy, overdoing it might come across as a bit unnatural. And it goes the same for Italian slang words!

Italian expressions

Funny Italian Slang Words & Phrases

1. Cavoli amari

Cavoli amari literally translates to “bitter cabbages” in Italian but refers to a tough situation or impending problems. Interestingly, Italians frequently mention cabbages! For instance, cavoli miei (“my cabbages”) implies something is your personal business that others shouldn’t meddle with.

2. Boh!

When you’re clueless about something or you don’t know what to say, in Italian, you can simply say “boh!”. This one is quite similar to the Italian expression che ne so! meaning “how should I know?”.

3. Dai!

There’s no denying that Italians are experts in expression. For example, the Italian expression “dai!” can be used in three quite different contexts. And if you are wondering how that is possible, well, it’s all about the correct use of intonation, mimics, and Italian hand gestures.

  • Dai! Veramente? – Come on! Really? (expresses surprise or disbelief)
  • Dai! Passa la palla a Luigi! – Come on! Pass the ball to Luigi! (encouragement)
  • Dai! Basta! Smettila! – Come on! That’s enough! Stop that! (frustration or annoyance)

4. Pantofolaio

Literally “slipper-man”. Italian slang pantofolaio refers to someone who prefers to stay home in their slippers rather than go out. Do you recognize yourself in this description? A pantofolaio is basically the Italian equivalent of “couch potato”.

5. Tirare il pacco

“To throw the package”. Contrary to what some may think, this has nothing to do with the delivery man. Instead, it means to stand someone up. So, Italians don’t just skip a meeting or a date, they “throw the package”.

6. Schialla

Scialla is an Italian slang word that has become very popular lately, thanks to Gen Z. It basically means “to relax”, “to chill out” or to “keep calm”. It is generally used as an encouragement to “don’t worry”.

There’s a 2011 movie with the same name in case you’re looking to expand your Italian slang word repertoire further.

7. Figo

Mostly used by younger people, this Italian slang word is the equivalent of “cool”. If you want to say that something is extraordinary, fantastic, or cool, in Italian you would say figo or che figata.

Additionally, figo (or figa for women) can also be used to say that someone is very attractive. For example, Brad Pitt è un gran figo translates to “Brad Pitt is very attractive”.

8. Sbronza

Sbronza is for everything related to alcohol as it essentially describes the state of intoxication resulted from consuming it. Are you having a sbronza? It means you have a hangover.

If you have to convey the meaning of being drunk in a more formal setting, you would definitely not use sbronza. Instead, you would use terms like ubriachezza (“drunkness”) or intossicazione alcolica (“alcohol intoxication”).

9. Che casino

Casino in Italian has nothing to do with gambling because it is literally a “brothel”. So, this Italian expression actually means “what a mess!” and is used to describe a situation that’s a bit out of control, confusing, or crowded.

10. Beccarsi

Beccarsi is an Italian slang verb that comes from beccare, which literally means “to peck”. However, in slang or informal language, beccarsi has several meanings depending on the context. The most common is “to meet” or “to catch up” with someone. For example, Ci becchiamo dopo la scuola? translates to “Shall we meet up after school?”.

11. Americanata

Americanata is a playful jab, not to be taken offensively, used to describe something absurdly grandiose, extravagant, or exaggerated, reflecting a humorous observation of American culture.

Italian Expressions with Deep Meaning

  • Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto. (“Eat well, laugh often, love much.”)
  • Chi dorme non piglia pesci. (“He who sleeps does not catch fish.”)
  • L’abito non fa il monaco. (“The habit does not make the monk.”)
  • La goccia scava la roccia. (“Constant effort wears away the stone.”)
  • Nella calma è la virtù. (“In calmness lies virtue.”)
  • Non è tutto oro quello che luccica. (“Not all that glitters is gold.”)
  • Ogni lasciata è persa. (“Everything left is lost.”)
  • L’erba del vicino è sempre più verde. (“Your neighbor’s grass is always greener.”)
  • Il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio. (“The wolf may lose its fur but not its vice.”)
  • Il buongiorno si vede dal mattino. (“A good day starts in the morning.”)
  • Occhio non vede, cuore non duole. (“The eye doesn’t see, the heart does not hurt.”)
  • A caval donato non si guarda in bocca. (“You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”)

These Italian expressions with deep meaning are essentially proverbs you can use to add a layer of sophistication to your Italian conversations. Our advice is to employ these expressions as you would in your own language: sparingly. However, ensure you introduce them at the perfect moment when their wisdom can shine and make the most impact.

Italian slang

Bonus: More Italian Slang Words and Expressions

Italian slang words and expressionsTranslationComments
Hai voluto la bicicletta? E adesso pedala!You wanted the bicycle? Now ride it.the Italian equivalent of “you made your bed, now lie in it”
RagaGuysrefers to a group of young people
Che figata!How cool!another way to say figo
FiguratiIt’s nothingit can also be used to express surprise or disbelief: “Imagine that!”
Mi raccomandoPlease, mare sure to…it can also mean “remember” or “don’t forget”
Acqua in boccaKeep it a secretliterally “water in your mouth”
Non avere peli sulla linguaTo speak your mindliterally “to not have hair on your tongue”
Speriamo beneLet's hope for the bestcan also mean “fingers crossed”
MagariI wish/If onlyused to express hope for something that is not very likely to happen
Che schifo!How disgusting!an exclamation used to express strong dislike or disgust
Alla romanaRoman-styleit refers to splitting the bill equally
Essere al verdeTo be brokeliterally “to be at the green”
SfigatoUnluckyoften used to describe someone who is a loser in a light-hearted way
Essere in gambaTo be capable/competentliterally “to be in leg”
Costare un occhio della testaVery expensiveliterally “to cost an eye out of the head”
FiccanasoNosey personit refers to a meddlesome person
Meno maleThank Godliterally “less bad”
Rompere le scatoleTo get on someone’s nervesliterally “to break the boxes”
Che barbaHow boringliterally “what a beard”
Hai fatto la scoperta dell’AmericaYou discovered Americaused sarcastically
Tanto par cambiareSo much for changedepending on your tone, it can either be sarcastic or serious
Italian Slang Words and Expressions

In conclusion, Italian slang and expressions are more than just linguistic flourishes; they are key to truly experiencing Italian culture. By judiciously incorporating them into your conversations, you not only enrich your language skills but also deepen your connection with Italy’s rich heritage. Remember, the goal is to sprinkle these expressions like seasoning – enough to enhance but not to overpower. This careful balance will not only make your speech more authentic but also open doors to more meaningful interactions. Ciao!

Before you go, make sure you check out these FAQs.

Is it okay to use slang when speaking Italian?

Yes, using slang is okay when speaking Italian, as it can make your conversations more natural and show familiarity with the culture. Just make sure you’re mindful of the context and the company you’re in.

Where can I learn more Italian slang?

You can learn more Italian slang on the Mondly blog, from Italian movies and TV shows, social media, and online forums frequented by fluent speakers.

How can I use italian expressions confidently in conversation?

You can use Italian expressions confidently in conversation by practicing. First, start by incorporating a few expressions into your conversations and pay attention to the reactions you get.Then, immerse yourself in Italian media to understand the context and usage of these expressions naturally. The more you practice and learn, the better you will be at using Italian expressions in your conversations.

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Diana Lăpușneanu - Linguist at Mondly Blog

Diana is a Linguist at Mondly by Pearson. Learning English as a second language early on fueled her lifelong passion for language learning, leading her to pursue a diverse array of languages as a hobby alongside her academic endeavors. With a Master’s Degree in advertising and a fascination for historical linguistics, she brings a unique perspective to her role, making language learning fun for readers worldwide.

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