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Thirteen dialect words you need to know in Florence

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
Thirteen dialect words you need to know in Florence
Photo: Chris Yunker/Flickr

Tuscany, and Florence in particular, is known as the home of the Italian language.


The language spoken here in the 1300s was later adopted as Italy's national tongue – with a helping hand from Dante, who described it as the country's most beautiful language.

But things have changed since Dante's time, not least the way language works, so the Florentine dialect of today has a few peculiarities you won't have picked up in class.

One of the key differences is the way 'c' and 'g' have become weaker sounds - so 'che cosa' and 'Coca Cola' sound more like 'he hosa' and 'hoha hola' to English speakers. 

There are also plenty of words and phrases which are unique to Tuscany. Here are 13 of the most common and interesting, to help you talk like a Tuscan and impress local friends.

Fo/vo | I do/I go

Remember those hours you spent learning the conjugations of irregular verbs 'fare' and 'andare'? Forget it, because Tuscany has its own forms - for the first person singular, at least. You'll hear 'fo' (I do) instead of 'faccio' and 'vo' (I go) instead of 'vado'.

There are a few reasons this change might have happened. Frequently-used words often underwent this kind of 'erosion' of consonants during the change from Latin to Italian, and it's possible that the change was helped along by the fact many other irregular verbs (dare, stare, sapere) have a similar form in the first person singular (do, sto, so).

Topini | Gnocchi

'Topo' means 'rat' or 'mouse' in Italian, so you might not be delighted to go to see 'topini al sugo' on the menu. But don't be put off - this is simply the Florentine name for gnocchi, a kind of dough pasta usually made of potatoes. Another Tuscan variant on the dish is known as 'malfatti', which literally means 'badly made'.

Photo: Austin Keys/Flickr

Ganzo | Cool

'Ganzo' is the Florentine way of saying 'cool', though when used as a noun, it means 'lover', so pay attention to context! It's mostly used by the younger crowd, as a more colloquial term than 'bello' or 'grande'.

It's particularly handy as an alternative to 'figo', which can cause trouble to non-native speakers as it has vulgar connotations.


Grullo | A silly person

You can use 'grullo' as either a noun or adjective to refer to someone foolish. It's not entirely clear where it comes from but may be related to 'gru' (crane) as birds are often associated with silliness in Italian. Grullo has been used in Florence for centuries, dating back to at least the 1500's, and will be understood by most people from other regions too.

Boncitto | A good guy

On a more positive note, use this word to talk about someone with a calmer personality, level-headed - someone you can rely on.

File photo: Pexels

Chetarsi | To be silent

Anyone who's learned Italian through studying literature might find themselves being laughed at from time to time for using antiquated words that aren't usually heard in 'real life'. But in Florence, some words which might get you odd looks elsewhere are normal parts of the local lingo.  

'Chetarsi', meaning 'to be silent' is one example - in the rest of the country, you're best sticking with 'fare silenzio' or 'tacere', as 'chetarsi' is seen as formal literary language, but it's normal in Florentine conversation. Another example is the pronoun 'codesto', which has fallen out of use in speech across most of the country, and has a pretty specific meaning: it's used to talk about something which is far away from the speaker but near the person they're talking to.


Piaccicone | A slow worker

Being a 'piaccicone' is not a good thing. It's a negative way of saying someone spends a lot of time carrying out their tasks, possibly not to a very high standard and without putting much effort or care into the work.

Ruzzare | To joke about/have fun

'Ruzzare' is slightly stronger than 'scherzare' (to joke) - it tends to be used when someone's taking the joke a bit too far, or to refer to play-fighting, for example. The verb is thought to have the same origin as Italian 'ruggire', which means 'to roar'.

Photo: Pexels

Desinare | To have lunch

'Desinare', used both as a verb and a noun, is an alternative to 'pranzare' or 'il pranzo' meaning 'lunch'. 

So where does it come from? In Vulgar Latin, 'disieiunare' meant 'to break one's fast', the root for the French word 'déjeuner' (which at first meant breakfast and later came to mean lunch) and English 'dine'. Old French used 'disner', and the Tuscan dialect appears to have borrowed and Italianized the term.


In several Romance languages, the meaning of words for 'breakfast' have shifted to refer to lunch, likely due to lifestyle changes which saw the midday meal usurp breakfast as the most substantial of the day.

Garbare | To like

People will understand you if you use the verb 'piacere' but you'll rack up instant points for swapping it to 'garbare'. It's formed the same way as 'piacere', so to say 'I like Florence' you'd say 'Mi garba Firenze'.

Photo: Pexels

Berciare | To yell

'Berciare' means to shout or yell loudly, generally without much sense or coherence. It can also refer to someone singing badly and out of tune, and when followed by 'di', it means 'to harp on about something'.

Abbozzare | To stop

Here's another useful word for parents, au pairs, and teachers of Tuscan children, to use as a regional alternative to 'smettere' or 'cessare'. It likely comes from the word 'abozzo' (sketch or rough draft' and the verb 'sbozzare' which referred to sketching out or drafting an artwork or sculpture.

Ciabattone/a | A slob

In English, a 'ciabatta' is a type of crusty bread but in Italian it means 'slipper'. From there, you get 'ciabattare', a verb meaning 'to shuffle around', and 'ciabattone', which means 'slob'. As well as referring to a scruffy appearance and lazy habits, it can also be used for people who are generally a bit incompetent. 

Want more Italian language facts? Check out our language section for more lists, features and articles about the bella lingua.

This article was first published in April 2017.



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