Unmasking the charm of Italian slang: how to speak like a native

By Go! Go! Italia staff
10 Jan 2024
Reading Time: 4 minutes
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Italian, known for its rich history and sweet melodic sound, goes beyond formal words. Beyond the fancy stuff, there’s a whole world of Italian slang – a cool way the country talks. While studying Italian you will want to check out the Italian slang, where the language gets real and reflects the lively Italian vibe. In this article we’ll dig into where it comes from, how it’s used, and share some fun examples that capture the Italian way of life to help you with on your Italian learning journey.

Origins of Italian slang

Italian slang, often referred to as gergo, is a dynamic and ever-evolving part of the language. Its roots can be traced back to various sources, reflecting the history and regional diversity of the Italian peninsula.

  • Historical influences: Italy’s history has seen a parade of different cultures, from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance and beyond. Each era brought linguistic influences, and some of these influences are present in modern Italian slang. For example, some slang words have Latin origins, reflecting the enduring legacy of the Roman Empire.
  • Regional variation: Italy is a country of diverse regions, each with its own distinctive culture, dialects, and slang. Regional slang terms often reflect local customs, traditions, and histories, contributing to the colorful tapestry of Italian slang.

Usage of Italian slang

Italian slang serves several functions in daily life, from adding humor and expressiveness to allowing insiders to bond over their shared linguistic secrets.

  • Expressing emotion: One of the primary functions of slang is to convey emotions and attitudes that might not be easily expressed with standard language. Slang can be used to intensify feelings, whether it’s affection, frustration, or joy.
  • Building camaraderie: Slang creates a sense of camaraderie among those who understand and use it. It’s like being part of a secret club, with shared jokes and insider language that brings people closer.
  • Lightening the mood: Italian slang often has a humorous or lighthearted quality. It can be used to add a touch of playfulness to conversations, making interactions more engaging and enjoyable.

Photo of girl studying Italian slang

Examples of Italian slang

  • Ciaone

The standard Italian greeting, Ciao, is widely recognized and used. However, Italians have a habit of adding one to the end, making it Ciaone. It assumes an ironic and mocking meaning and it is primarily used by young people and adolescents to say that something is never going to happen.
Example: Sta ancora considerando? Ciaone! (Is he still considering it? Yeah sure, bye!)

  • Che figata

In standard Italian, fico means “fig”, the fruit. But in slang, figo is an adjective used to describe something or someone as “cool” or “awesome”. You could say Quel ragazzo è un figo! (That guy is so cool). It is also a common term to express approval or admiration: Che figata! stands for “So cool”.

  • Sfiga

Very similar to the above but with a complete different meaning. Sfiga is an Italian slang term that translates to “bad luck” or “misfortune” in English. It is used to describe a situation or a person experiencing a streak of bad luck or unfortunate events. Instead of the above mentioned Che figata! you would say Che sfiga! (Such a bad luck!).

  • Boh

Boh is a versatile slang word often used to express uncertainty or a lack of interest. It’s similar to saying “I don’t know” or “Who cares?” depending on the context. In most of cases, it is accompanied by a shrug of shoulders.

  • Magari

Magari is a fascinating Italian slang word that doesn’t have a direct English translation. It can mean “I wish” or “if only,” expressing desire or longing for something. It’s a word deeply rooted in the Italian spirit of longing for better things.

  • Rompi le palle

This colorful phrase is used to express annoyance or frustration. It translates to “You’re breaking my balls” and is often used when someone is bothering you or being a nuisance.
Example of use: Non mi rompere le palle! (Do not bust my balls!). Can also be shortened with Non mi rompere.

  • Dai

Dai is a versatile slang word that can mean “come on,” “let’s go,” or “give it to me.” It’s commonly used to encourage or prompt someone to do something. A variation of this is Eddai, which can be used with same meaning.

  • Stai fresco

Literally meaning “stay fresh,” this phrase is used to convey a sense of skepticism, the idea that someone shouldn’t count on something. It’s similar to saying “forget about it” in English. It is used in a dismissive or sarcastic tone.

  • Cavolo or Cavoli

Cavolo literally means “cauliflower”. However these words can be used to express surprise, similar to saying “Oh my gosh” or “Oh my goodness.” They are milder alternatives to stronger exclamations. Example: Cavoli, sono in ritardo (Oh my gosh, I’m late).

Italian slang is a colorful and ever-evolving aspect of the language, reflecting the vibrant culture and the unique spirit of the Italian people. Learning and using slang can add depth and authenticity to your Italian language skills while helping you connect more intimately with the culture and its people.

Ready to embark on your journey of studying the Italian language? Reach out to us, and we’ll assist you in selecting the right school that suits your needs, guide you through the visa process if required, and help arrange accommodation.

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