Close your eyes (obviously after reading this) and think about walking down the streets of your favorite town in Italy. Over Vespa motors and the slam of shop doors, you hear conversations starting and ending all around you. What words are being said constantly, and when you have conversations, what words or phrases are you always using?
This was the question I asked myself as I prepared for a short move to Rome. What would the expats who have chosen to live in Italy indefinitely have to tell me about their favorite words or phrases that they say every day?
Here are the favorites from 9 expats:
“Boh and “che palle”. Because basically at least once a day, something happens that makes you want to say “che palle” and “boh” is the perfect answer to everything. I use it so much that I’ll say it when I’m speaking English to my friends and family without realizing! Apparently its significance is not universally-known…!” – Jasmine Mah, Questa Dolce Vita
“Un altro sciopero?” – Rick Zullo, RickZullo.com
“There’s a Roman dialect term – daje – pronounced dai-yeah – which is a term of encouragement. You’ll hear it from your friends when they want to cheer you up, and it’s shouted at football matches to cheer the team on. It’s a cross between “come on!” and “you can do it” – something you might want to keep muttering to yourself as you take the leap into the unknown!” – Isobel Lee, Testaccina
”Favorite word??? i love saying termosifone or frigorifero– for the sound— but a phrase I use often??? I am curious– so am always saying– ” posso fare una domanda” my Florentine husband says i don’t need to ask to ask a question– but to me, it is common courtesy to ask first. Other than that– I say Mamma mia a LOT here— always amazed by something…” – Judy Witts Francini, Divina Cucina
“‘Caspita!’ which essentially means “Wow!” and probably explains why I say “Wow!” so much in English now more than before having lived in Italy.” – Molly Mcilwrath, Letterartemente
“This probably doesn’t count, but I actually made up an Italian word, “adoribile,” a combination of “adorabile” and “orribile,” meaning “horribly adorable. Surprisingly, I find myself using it a lot, ha! :)” – Peggy Ryan, Gracefully Global
“I love the Italian word zanzara. I hate mosquitoes, but I love that the Italian word for mosquito has these rolling, onomatopoeic sound of all the zzzzzs and the buzzing of the insect. Unfortunately, it’s a word I use a lot in the summer.” – Natalie, An American in Rome
“I am a big fan of Italian swear words. From the lighter ones (cavolo! – who doesn’t love throwing the word “cabbage” into conversation?!) to the heavier ones (also begins with a c and ends in an o…). I sprinkle them into almost every conversation. I also really love the sounds that convey complex-only-understood-by-natives, meaning. My favorite recently has been “oh!” but it’s not like the American “oh.” This “oh” (pronounced more like “aiho!”) comes from deep in the belly, and it expresses about a million different things from disbelief to astonishment to reprimand. Inserting it at just the right time when speaking passionately and gesticulating wildly, is one of my greatest pleasures in life.” – Rachel Vermiglio Smith, The Italianista
“Does it have to be save for children’s ears? 🙂 Of course some of my favorite words are swear words and the related hand gestures, but I think the one word which can say so much is “boh,” I don’t know. It’s like you can’t even put in the effort to say an actual sentence because that’s how much you don’t know. I love it.” – Sara Rosso, Ms. Adventures in Italy
And a bonus…
“Magari!!! A delightful cross between “maybe” and “if only!”. It can be ambiguous which is why I like it.” – Tiffany Parks, The Pines of Rome
This post is the final one in a series on advice from expats. You can read the first one here: I asked 9 expats what advice they wish they would have known before moving to Italy. Here’s what they said; and the second one is here: I asked 9 expats what it’s like to date an Italian. Here’s what they said.
Have questions or want to add your own input about common phrases? Leave a comment below!