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17 Fascinating Italian Words That Can’t Be Directly Translated Into English

17 Fascinating Italian Words That Can’t Be Directly Translated Into English

The Italian language is a fascinating mix of words and expressions that represent its culture and history. Think of food, opera, design, fashion, and the arts. Simply sit back and reflect on the astonishing influence Italian culture has had on music, opera, and literature. Mozart composed most of his operas in Italian, rather than German. Not surprising when you consider that the most important composers of the Renaissance and Baroque periods were Italian and most musical terminology is still in their language.

Each language has unique words which often reflect its culture. Italian is no exception as we will see from the list of 17 words which cannot really be directly translated into English.

1. Culaccino

Italian cuisine has a fine reputation which is widely recognized. Many food words reflect this. “Culaccino” is used to describe the mark left by a glass on the tablecloth, because it is wet or stained.

2. Abbiocco

Still on food. Have you ever felt rather drowsy after a full meal? When you succumb to that sleepy feeling, you have the “abbiocco”. Just mutter it as you drift into that snooze.

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3. Boh!

This is the most wonderful word of all and takes up so little space and time. It has various nuances which wander aimlessly between “I don’t know” to “I have no idea” or “I don’t know and what kind of idiot are you to ask me why/how I would know the answer to that!”

4. Ciofeca

How on earth can you describe a poor quality and badly prepared drink, such as coffee? Italians will have none of this and their word “ciofeca” sums all that up in one word. Why on earth would you want to spend more words in describing a lousy coffee? It sounds horrible and it is!

5. Furbo

This can be roughly translated as person who is crafty, sly or devious. But there is something missing. The Italian word contains an element of criticism or warning but also reflects a certain admiration in how they manage to carry it off, be successful and get away with it!

6. Pantofolaio

Imagine trying to find one English word which describes a person who loafs around at home and rarely goes out? “Pantofolaio” describes this person perfectly as “pantofole” is the Italian word for slippers.

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7. Salapuzio

Do you ever meet a rather short man who happens to be a know-it-all? He may be rather unpleasant and may even be lewd. “Salapuzio” is the word you need. This word comes from the Latin word “salaputium.”

8. Faloppone

Think of a person who never finishes anything, is self-important, and is full of empty promises. The Italian word “faloppone” expresses this very neatly. Now, I wonder why Italians often use this word to describe politicians?

9. Gattara

This can be roughly translated as a cat lady but that does not go far enough. Cat lady may simply refer to a cat lover who has one or more cats at home. This Italian word usually means an older lady who wanders the streets, looks after stray cats, and spends most of her time, energy and money on looking after them.

10. Rocambolesco

This is really a borrowed word from the French one, rocambolesque. The word comes from a character called Rocambole who was a daring adventurer, invented by the author Pierre Alexis Ponson du Terrail. When you want to describe an adventure or event that was daring, epic, fantastic, gripping, and incredible, then “rocambolesco” is perfect.

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11. Meriggiare

This word suits the Italian climate perfectly. “Meriggiare” means to rest in the shade on a very hot day. It is actually the title of the poem, Meriggiare by Eugenio Montale.

12. Magari

A wonderful word with many uses and meanings. It can mean a banal “I wish” but is more often used to express the idea of hope, longing and wishful thinking in the sense “If only it were true” as one dreams of fortune, wealth, and happiness. It is also used to introduce diplomatic advice so you use it at the beginning of the sentence when suggesting a little more or less pepper would have made the pasta ideal. Its origin is from the ancient Greek word “makarie” which means those lucky people who can.

13. Menfreghista

This word is used for those people who couldn’t give a damn about anything or anyone else. The Italian expression for “I don’t care” is “Non me ne frega.” So, when you want to describe a person who has this awful attitude, he or she is a “menefreghista.” There is nothing as neat as that in English.

14. Qualunquismo

Perhaps this is the negative version of whatever, but refers to an attitude of distrust, scepticism and apathy in politics. Its origin is traced back to a political movement (Fronte dell’Uomo Qualunque) founded after World War II in Italy. It was supposedly apolitical and proposed an alternative to left and right political policies at the time.

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15. Cornuto

This is a word which means having horns and is used to describe a horned animal. But its use in contemporary Italian more often refers to a person who is being cheated on. The nearest English equivalent is the rather Shakespearian word “cuckolded” but nobody uses that now.

16. Gibigianna

If you say this word softly, it helps you to visualize its meaning – the flash of reflected light on water. Just one word to convey that beautiful scene. It also has a figurative meaning as in a woman who wants to flaunt her charms or dazzle you with her elegance.

17. Apericena

When you have an aperitif you whet your appetite before a meal, Why not go one step further and enjoy some delicious samples of food in readiness for dinner (cena)? This is an “apericena” and many bars offer them free of charge, maybe in the hope you will order a second drink.

Featured photo credit: ho visto nina volare/ via Flickr via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on November 5, 2019

12 Powerful Habits of a Lifelong Learner

12 Powerful Habits of a Lifelong Learner

Formal education is something everyone has to go through to a certain degree, and the knowledge it offers isn’t always that practical in real life. Life long learning is how you improve as a person, bit by bit and day by day.

Life long learners recognize the importance and joy of growth so they never settle for what they currently know and always seek for improvement.

Here are 12 habits of people who value lifelong learning have in common – see how many of them you recognize in yourself.

1. They Read on a Daily Basis

Whatever problem or dilemma you currently face, there’s definitely at least one decent book that discusses it and presents a variety of solutions.

Reading is a great way to open up new horizons, train your brain and revolutionize your life. I can’t even count how many times books completely transformed the way I view the world, and it’s always a change for the better. Through reading, you can connect with successful people and learn from the lessons they share.

Life long learners love to get lost in books and do it regularly. Bill Gates knows that reading matters a lot; on his personal blog, he reviews plenty of game-changing books.

Due to technology, you can access a bookshelf of the wealthiest entrepreneur on this planet.

2. They Attend Various Courses

Whether it’s online or offline, there are countless courses you can participate in without spending a dime on it. These are great opportunities to connect with clever and like-minded people and learn from them.

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Because of the advanced technology, you can now gain knowledge from online programs, starting from coding through self-improvement to programs from top universities.

There are literally endless ways to thrive. What life long learners have in common is squeezing as much as possible out of these opportunities.

3. They Actively Seek Opportunities to Grow

Instead of spending your free time laying on the couch and watching TV, you prefer doing something creative and practical. You know every wasted minute is gone forever.

That’s why you’d rather practice your language skills with a native-speaker you’ve met, engage in local meet up or attend a class that teaches something you always wanted to learn.

Life long learners stay up-to-date with growth opportunities in their areas and participate in them frequently.

4. They Take Care of Their Bodies

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” — John F. Kennedy

A clever mind combined with a body in a great condition is the best asset you can have. Our bodies were designed to run, walk, jump, swim, lift and much more. Leading a sedentary lifestyle harms both your physical and mental sphere.

Life long learners know the body is your temple. In order to make it flourish for as long as possible, they train regularly, move a lot and eat healthy.

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5. They Have Diverse Passions

Among Steve Jobs’ wise quotes, there’s one I like especially. It’s about connecting the dots:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” — Steve Jobs

Each dot is some event or skill in your life, and it’s only when you go through these elements that you know how to combine them into something great.

Having a variety of passions indicates that you love to progress. By practicing different skills, you give yourself an advantage over the rest of the people. During hard times, you are more likely to to act intelligently and solve your problems with less effort.

6. They Love Making Progress

If behind the efforts, there is passion and a deep desire to grow, your chances of success are way higher, compared to when you are forced to learn.

Life long learners love to experience the constant growth and improvement. The breakthrough moments help them to notice the impressive change that took place because of the learning process. Any milestone serves as a driving force for further headway.

7. They Challenge Themselves with Specific Goals

In order to keep growing, you clearly define your goals. Smart goal setting is one of the tools to ensure constant growth.

Since you love challenges, a difficult goal doesn’t scare you. Quite the opposite, it keeps you motivated and engaged.

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Research showed that precise and ambitious goals increase the performance of an individual. As we already agreed, life long learners are people who care about their performance, hence they never stop improving.

8. They Embrace Change

A complete change can lead to incredible results. This is especially visible on the example of successful companies.

Oftentimes, it’s that transformation which created space for their so-called overnight success. Twitter was originally created as an internal service to serve Odeo employees. Currently, it has over 300 million monthly active users and is considered the second biggest social network.

As a life long learner, you know a change can lead to extraordinary results so you welcome it and stay open minded about making a shift.

9. They Believe It’s Never Too Late to Start Something

Some people tend to think after a certain age, they are no longer allowed to start something and become successful. The truth is, it’s just a lame excuse not to leave the comfort zone.

Opposite to common misconceptions, there’s no wrong age to begin something. Henry Ford was 45 when he invented the Ford Model T car, which is considered as the first affordable automobile.

Sure, for some domains like becoming a professional athlete, starting early is required. However, to learn and improve for its own sake, you are never too old.

10. Their Attitude to Getting Better Is Contagious

“We now accept the fact that learning is a life long process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” — Peter Drucker

There’s nothing better than to see your surroundings getting involved in what you actively participate in. Oftentimes, the best way to achieve that is to inspire them and be the example. As Gandhi would say, you need to be the change you want to see in the world.

As a life long learner, you are extremely passionate about the constant growth and people around you can sense that positive attitude. As a result, they start acting similarly.

11. They Leave Their Comfort Zone

Is it really better to step out of your comfort zone? The answer is always yes.

You always embrace discomfort as you know the path to success leads through hardship and countless obstacles. Instead of being afraid of facing them, you challenge yourself to overcome more and more difficult handicaps.

Every time you get out of your comfort zone, regardless whether you win or fail, you learn something new. That’s the part you love the most!

12. They Never Settle Down

“Knowledge is exploding, so you need to commit yourself to a plan for life long learning.” — Don Tapscott

A sense of being clever enough is something you don’t experience. Without a doubt, you appreciate what you already know, but that’s never a reason to stop. You just know once you stop learning, you lose the amazing privilege humans have, namely an ability to a never-ending intellectual development.

More About Lifelong Learning

Featured photo credit: Christin Hume via unsplash.com

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