Five Favorites: Italian Words

Since I started “Five Favorites,” a feature to showcase the expertise and interests of guest Italophile bloggers, we’ve seen posts about Lucca, Beaches in Calabria, and Recipes from Rome. This week’s installment, about the Italian language, is from Jessica Spiegel of BootsnAll’s WhyGo Italy guide. And, it’s so appropriate that Jess would write about language as she is so skilled at making words dance upon the page (or screen). Jessica’s list of Five Favorite Italian Words also got me thinking: what are your favorite Italian words? Feel free to comment after the post with your faves (though keep it clean – this is a family blog!). I think I, too, will have to save my favorite words for the comment box as I’m too scombussolata* right now to think of a few!

Five Favorites: Italian Words

I’ve been studying Italian on and off since 2001, and although I’m nowhere near fluent, I can get by in most situations. Along the way, I’ve come to have an odd affection for certain Italian words. Sometimes that has to do with what the word means or how it’s used, but sometimes (as you’ll see below) it has almost nothing to do with the meaning and almost everything to do with how the word sounds.

One of the things that drew me to Italian in the first place – before I’d been to Italy or even planned to visit – was how the words felt in my mouth as I said them. There is something very tactile to me about speaking Italian, something very sensual. The sharp consonants are so clear, the vowels so bright, and every time I get to roll my Rs (giving the roof of my mouth a little massage with the tip of my tongue) I’m a happy girl.

In short, I love speaking Italian – even if I don’t know what I’m saying half the time.

So when Melanie asked me to contribute a post to her “Five Favorites” series, coming up with a list of my five favorite Italian words was only challenging in that I could easily make a list of 20 or more. Cutting it to five took some doing.

Here are five of my favorite words in Italian – along with how to say them, what they mean, and why I love them.

zanzara
pronounced: zahn|ZAH|rah
This was one of my first favorite Italian words, and it remains so even though I know it means “mosquito” and it is therefore the bane of everyone’s existence during Italy’s summers. There is just something so crazy wonderful about saying those Zs – the buzzing on the end of my tongue – and I love how the word is kind of onomatopeic as well.

As an aside, knowing this word actually came in handy during one trip to Italy, too. After staying with cousins in the Bordeaux region of France and getting eaten alive each night by French mosquitoes, I was later able to ask a pharmacist in the Cinque Terre for “qualcosa per le zanzare – mi mangiano!” (Meaning: something for the mosquitoes – they’re eating me!) I left the pharmacy with exactly what I needed, both to stop the itching and prevent further bites. Mission accomplished, thanks to my strange word fascination.

basta
pronounced: BAH|stah
I don’t even remember when I learned this word, but it’s become one I use frequently – both with Italian speakers and those who don’t speak Italian. It’s easy enough to explain to the latter group that it means “enough,” and when it’s said with some force I think it’s more jarring than just yelling, “Enough!” in someone’s face. But maybe that’s just me. Listen closely on your next trip to Italy and you’ll hear it all over the place – mothers saying it to their kids, mostly. It’s a handy one, and easy to remember.

Ti Amo! Hai Capito?

scombussolato/a
pronounced: skohm|booss|soh|LAH|tah -or- |toh
Upon arriving at Italian class one night, the teacher asked how I was feeling. The problem was that I didn’t know how to accurately describe my flustered state in Italian – so I had to ask, “How do you say ‘discombobulated’ in Italian?” In her reply, I was gifted another of my very favorite Italian words. Now I tend to say that I’m feeling scombussolata, no matter how I really feel, because it’s so fun to say. Note that discombobulated women have an “a” at the end of their word, while discombobulated men have an “o” at the end of theirs. Just in case you weren’t discombobulated enough.

dai
pronounced: die
This is absolutely one for the “I love using it” column as opposed to “I love how it sounds.” It’s slang-y, roughly translating to “come on,” and used about the same way. Which means you hear it often. You hear it from people watching soccer matches or other sporting events (dai, what the hell kind of a kick was that?). You hear it when people are talking with friends and in disbelief over something someone just said (dai, no way!). You hear it when people are offering encouragement (dai, you can do it!). It’s an incredibly useful expression, and even though it’s informal (meaning you don’t want to test it out on the nice Italian signora at your hotel) it’s not vulgar (so if she happens to hear you say it to your kid you’re just fine).

andiamo
pronounced: ahn|DYAHM|oh
As hard as it might be to narrow the list of Italian words I love down to five, picking my #1 favorite is a cinch. It’s no contest. “Andiamo” has been my favorite Italian word since I learned it during my first Italian class so many moons ago. In addition to being fun to say, the fact that it means “let’s go” speaks to a couple things I love dearly. Firstly, it’s about inclusion – let’s all go, together. Sure, it can be used in an impatient way if your friends are lagging behind and you want them to hurry up, but I prefer that to abandoning them altogether and going on alone. Second, it’s about travel, something near and dear to my heart. Let’s go. Where? Who knows. Doesn’t matter. Let’s just go.

Jessica Spiegel is a travel writer with the BootsnAll Travel Network who has a confirmed case of Italophile-ism. She writes BootsnAll’s Italy travel guide and is in the process of getting the paperwork she needs to move to Italy.

Photos © Alessandra Cimatti, notafish, Jessica Spiegel

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25 Responses to Five Favorites: Italian Words

  1. Kristina January 15, 2010 at 7:08 pm #

    My all time favorite Italian word is “allora.” I just love the way it sounds and that it’s one of those multi-purpose words.
    .-= Kristina´s last blog ..We have a winner and other announcements =-.

  2. Marcy Gorodn January 15, 2010 at 7:19 pm #

    My favorite Italian word to say is lavastoviglie –the dishwasher. Just love the sound of it.
    .-= Marcy Gorodn´s last blog ..The Conn Creek Barrel Blending & Cupcake Pairing Challenge =-.

    • Melanie January 15, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

      That is a fun one! I know one word I’ve always liked is “comunque” (however). It’s also one of those all-purpose words, plus you can say it, trailing off, and no one will expect you don’t have enough vocab to finish your thought! It also sometimes seems to be used like “whatever”…

      One of the first Italian words I ever learned was “domicilio” (domicile) pronouced do-mee-CHEE-lee-o. I had looked up a random phrase in a dictionary. It’s just so much fun to say and sounds pretty to my ears.

  3. Francesca January 15, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

    Hmmm, this is something I haven’t thought about much. Let’s see, five words…
    1) cominciamo – just like the way it sounds
    2) stracciatella – yum!
    3) chiacchierone – I was called this by family members many times as a child
    4) cucuzza – of course when my family says it in their Neopolitan dialect, it sounds more like “googootz”
    5) Lucia – my daughter’s name :-)

    • Melanie January 16, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

      Chiacchierone…I forgot that one. I use it all the time to describe someone but I won’t say who! #5 is very sweet and I, too, should add Dante and Leonardo, the names of my boys. :-)

  4. Jessica, WhyGo Italy January 16, 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    Thanks for the opportunity to write this post for you, Melanie, and for the kind words in the introduction! I had fun writing it, and thought of more favorite words long after I’d written it, too. I agree, chiacchierare is a fab word – it’s completely onomatopoeic, as well: Sounds like chickens clucking. ;)

    • Melanie January 17, 2010 at 9:59 am #

      The pleasure was all mine. I think it has started a fun discussion over on my Facebook page, too.
      Thanks, again!

  5. Kelly Borsheim-artist January 17, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    This is two words, but one in English, so I would like to add it here. I love “tutto due” which means “both,” but literally translates to “all two.” So cute. And it reminds me that when I do not know how to say a word in Italian, I must think of other ways to say something in English that might translate to words that I do know a bit.
    In this way, I think I have improved my skills in “tutto due lingue”

    I hope!

    Oops — my dictionary says the proper Italian phrase is “tutt’e due” daiiiiiiiii!

  6. Marie January 18, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    Great words! And much “cleaner” than my recent
    top 15 parolacce
    Keep up the good work :)

  7. Cherrye at My Bella Vita February 7, 2010 at 3:59 am #

    Ha! Fun list! I’ve been thinking of my favorite words to put into a post, too. :-)
    .-= Cherrye at My Bella Vita´s last blog ..World Nutella Day 2010: Orange and Nutella Breakfast Cake Recipe =-.

  8. Angelcat February 23, 2010 at 7:44 pm #

    how do you day mosquito in Italian?

  9. Melissa March 22, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    Dobbiamo essere anima gemelle! We must be kindred spirits, non posso credere but two of my all time favortite Italian words are on your list as well…I adore Zanzara and precisely for the reasons you give too! And scombussalare!!!! I loved hearing Marina (from Un Post al Sole) say it after shooting someone…”sorry but I'm just a little scombusolata today!!!” To funny! and such an understatement!

    Really a hard task to pick just five fav Italian words but here goes:

    Ronzare = buzz, whir (right up there with zanzare in onomatopeic power)

    Farfugliare = mutter, splutter

    Scarabocchio = scribble

    Brontolare = grumble (doesn't it just sound like grumbling when you say it?)

    Inappellabile = final, unquestionable (just fun to say you tongue just does the funny wavey thing as it bounces over the word!)

    I adore the Italian language and in fact write a blog in Italian just so that I can play with all these fantastic words…come visit me at: http://melissamuldoon.wordpress.com and play with me too!

  10. Joe April 15, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    OK, so it’s three words, but they’re always said as one: “Que bella ragazza!” That’s a phrase that always causes men on the beach to look up.

    • Melanie April 15, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

      Ha! Love it! I always liked the word “biondina” which is what I sometimes heard as I walked the streets of Rome. I was disappointed when the boys in Venice weren’t as vocal. :-)

  11. Julie ~ jbulie's blog April 30, 2010 at 2:19 am #

    Inappellabile ~ Great one Meli! Luv it.
    .-= Julie ~ jbulie’s blog´s last blog ..Good things travel. =-.

  12. Paola Aiello May 1, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    My first thought is that food sounds more fun in Italian. Think of it: wouldn’t you rather eat finocchio, lenticchie, melanzane, calamari, salsiccia, or albicocche than fennel, lentils, eggplant, squid, sausage or apricot? All of those are beautiful words! I remember my nonna saying them & thinking we were eating something quite exotic.
    I love the “sf” words like “sfingi” and “sfogliatelle”.
    Of course, I agree with others that variations on chiacchierare are the best. What a delightful word!

  13. Fatoom June 4, 2010 at 3:49 am #

    Wow! loved it!
    i almost fell in love with italian language before i started to self -learning -it :) and
    sure i have my fav. words, too
    more than 5 if i wanna post, but since ya started with 5, lemme think of 5 only

    Allora
    Dai ( this i adore, coz it always sounds funny )
    Pronto
    Ci vediamo
    ciao bella!

  14. Marta June 22, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    The best? The absolute best? BOH!!!

    • Melanie June 23, 2010 at 5:10 am #

      Jessica, the blogger who first wrote that post, just added Boh! To a new list she wrote. I’m going to do a round-up of all the new ones soon!

  15. Vincenzo Spina June 20, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    I should add the five more common words in “roman” language. “Dai”, for example, can be changed in “daje”, “andiamo” with “nnamo” :)
    A perfect new page for http://www.romeguides.it !

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