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ITALIAN LANGUAGE

Here’s how to talk about love, sex, and dating in Italian

The language of love is unsurprisingly full of words and phrases that might come in handy this Valentine's Day - although you may not have heard these in Italian class.

Here's how to talk about love, sex, and dating in Italian
A couple at the famous carnival of Venice. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Flirting

Italians have a reputation for being flirty, so these phrases could well come in handy if you’re navigating the Italian dating scene.

There are a few different terms for flirting: the reflexive verb ‘provarci‘ (roughly ‘to try it on with’), the phrasal verb ‘fare il filo a‘ or ‘corteggiare‘ (literally ‘to court’) are more formal alternatives, or you can use the Anglicism ‘flirtare‘, or ‘civettare‘, though the latter is generally restricted to women. 

The noun ‘una civetta‘, which means ‘owl’, is used to talk about flirty women (in English you might say ‘vixen’), while for men you could say ‘un donnaiolo‘ for a heterosexual man (it translates more or less as ‘womanizer’) or ‘un cascamorto‘, which comes from the term ‘cascare morto‘ (to fall down dead), suggesting dramatic swooning.

You can also use the verbal phrase ‘fare il cascamorto‘ to refer to a man who is flirting, usually in an over-the-top way, with someone.


Italy’s elaborate piazzas provide a suitably romantic backdrop. Photo: londondeposit/Depositphotos

Buttarsi‘ (literally ‘to throw oneself) means ‘to have a go’ and is often used in a romantic context, while ‘abbordare‘ means ‘to approach’ and ‘rimorchiare‘ (literally ‘to haul’) is ‘to pick someone up.

And if someone isn’t responding to your flirting? The phrase ‘fare il prezioso/la prezioso‘ (literally ‘being precious’) translates as ‘to play hard to get’.

Dating

The usual term for a date is ‘un appuntamento‘, but this also means ‘a (non-romantic) appointment’, so make sure you don’t get your wires crossed. 

If you’re talking about one date, you’d say ‘ho un (primo) appuntamento con un ragazzo/una ragazza‘ (I have a (first) date with a guy/girl), but if you’re dating regularly, you can say ‘sto uscendo con qualcuno‘ or ‘mi sto vedendo qualcuno‘ (I’m going out with/seeing someone). 


A couple kiss in front of Rome’s Colosseum on Valentine’s Day 2017. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Some other useful dating vocabulary to have up your sleeve: ‘un appuntamento al buio‘, literally ‘date in the dark’ is the Italian term for a blind date; ‘pagare alla romana‘ (to pay the Roman way) is to split the bill equally, and ‘bidonare‘ or ‘dare buca a qualcuno‘ is ‘to stand someone up’.

And if you’re feeling like a spare part on someone else’s date, you might need the phrase ‘essere l’ultima ruota del carro‘ (to be the last wheel of the cart) or ‘reggere la candela‘ (to hold the candle) which both refer to being the third wheel.

READ ALSO: Ten of the corniest Italian chat-up lines

Hugs and kisses

If the date goes well, you might find yourself engaging in any one of the following. ‘Andare a braccetto‘ is to walk arm in arm; ‘abbraciare‘ is ‘to hug’, also used in the platonic sense; ‘accarezzare‘ means ‘to caress’; ‘palpeggiare‘ is ‘to fondle’; and ‘coccolare‘ is ‘to cuddle’. ‘

Spooning’ uses the same imagery in Italian as in English: ‘fare il cucchaio‘ (literally ‘to do the spoon’).

The verb ‘baciare‘ means ‘to kiss’ and is related to the noun ‘un bacio‘ (a kiss). But if you want to get more descriptive, Italian has a rich vocabulary for talking about kisses. ‘Sbaciucchiarsi‘ is derived from ‘baciare‘ and might be rendered in English as ‘smooch’ or perhaps ‘snog’; it implies lots of repeated, romantic kisses.

A couple kiss in Milan. Photo: peus/Depositphotos

READ ALSO: Here’s how to do the Italian cheek kiss

French kissing is referred to either as ‘baciare alla francese‘ or ‘baciare alla fiorentina‘ (to kiss the Florentine way) — in fact, the latter variant has been recorded as early as the 17th century, when it appeared in an Italian erotic novel. There’s a good fact to impress your date with.

Some linguists actually believe that the term ‘French kiss’ arose from a misunderstanding by British and American soldiers during the Second World War who began to refer to the Florentine kiss as French, while others argue there’s a difference between the two types of kiss, with the French variety being more passionate.

To skip the etymological debate, you can always say ‘baciare con la lingua‘ (to kiss using tongues) or ‘slinguare‘ which means the same but is more fun to say.

Limonare‘ (literally ‘to lemon’) is another way of talking about a somewhat sloppy kiss, and probably derives from the action of lemon squeezers, while ‘pomiciare‘ comes from the noun ‘la pomice‘ (pumice stone), which gives some idea of the technique described.


Italian football supporters kiss while cheering on their team. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Sex

Having sex can simply be referred to as ‘fare sesso‘ or ‘fare l’amore‘ (to make love). Much more vulgar alternatives, not to be used around Italian in-laws, are ‘scopare‘ (which also means ‘to sweep’), ‘fottere‘ (also meaning ‘to steal/swipe’), and ‘chiavare‘ (from ‘la chiave‘ meaning key, so more or less translating as ‘to unlock’).

In Italy, a one-night stand is known as ‘una botta e via‘, literally meaning ‘a bang and go’.

And if you’re short on time, it could be helpful to know that ‘farsi una sveltina‘ or ‘fare una cosina veloce‘ are two translations for ‘to have a quickie’.


Unfortunately we don’t know the Italian term for this manouevre. Photo: Stokpic/Pexels

Falling in love

Just as in English, in Italian it’s common to say ‘mi piace qualcuno‘ (I like someone) to talk about someone you have romantic feelings for. And just as in English, there’s a risk that the romantic undertone might not be picked up on, so if you want to be clearer, you can say ‘mi sono presa una cotta per qualcuno‘ (I have a crush on someone) or, stronger still, ‘mi sono innamorarto/a in qualcuno‘ (I have fallen in love with someone). Meanwhile, ‘sono pazzo/a per lui/lei‘ means ‘I’m crazy about him/her’.

If you’re talking directly to the object of your affections, make sure not to get confused by the verb ‘piacere‘, which is often tough for non-native speakers. ‘Mi piaci‘ is ‘I like you’, while ‘ti piaccio‘ means ‘you like me’. ‘Ti amo‘ or ‘ti adoro‘ are more emphatically ‘I love/adore you’, while if you’re letting someone down gently, you might say ‘ti voglio bene‘ (I like you a lot), which is generally reserved for platonic love. 

Two of the most common pet names in Italy are ‘amore‘ (love) and ‘tesoro‘ (treasure), but there are plenty of more evocative alternatives, from ‘patatina‘ (little potato) to ‘cucciolotto‘ (little puppy).  It’s also common just to modify the person’s name with an Italian suffix, so a ‘Stefano’ could become ‘Stefanino’. 

READ ALSO: How we found each other through The Local Italy

This article was originally published in 2019.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

The Italian vocabulary you’ll need to follow the elections

Italian political goings-on are famously unpredictable, but they don't have to be impossible to understand. Here's a guide to the words and phrases you need to know ahead of Italy's crucial elections this Sunday.

The Italian vocabulary you'll need to follow the elections

Italian politics is hard enough to follow even for those with a lifetime’s experience of the political system and fluency in the language. For foreigners trying to follow events, it can be extremely confusing.

But once you’re armed with a bit of background knowledge and some specifically Italian political language, Italian politics does get easier to understand (at least, most of the time).

READ ALSO: Your ultimate guide to Italy’s crucial elections on Sunday

With Italy preparing for crucial general elections on Sunday, September 25th, it’s especially important to be able to at least get the gist of what’s going on.

From vocabulary basics to the peculiarities of Italian ‘politichese’, here’s The Local’s guide to the language you’ll need when following the election and political news in the coming weeks.

The basics

You may already have a good grasp of some basic political vocabulary, such as partiti politici (political parties) and i sondaggi (opinion polls).

L’elezione is ‘the election’, but Italians use the plural form (le elezioni) for general elections since voters will be choosing representatives in both the upper and lower houses of parliament.

The names for the two parts of parliament are la Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies – the Lower House) and il Senato della Repubblica (the Senate of the Republic – the Upper House).

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

Italians vote on September 25th in elections expected to bring easy an victory for far-right and right-wing populist parties. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

The system is anything but simple: it’s a mixed voting system with some seats allocated via proportional representation (‘un sistema proporzionale‘) and others by first-past-the-post (uninominale secco).

Don’t be alarmed if, on election day (il giorno di voto), you hear people talking about urns, or urne. Like its English equivalent, an ‘urna‘ is a kind of vase or container, but in Italian it’s used to refer to the ballot box, rather than anything to do with funerals. In Italian, andare alle urne means to ‘go to the polls’, or to cast your vote.

You do this using a scheda elettorale, or ballot paper – in fact, voters get two ballot papers – one for each house of parliament – at the polling booth (cabina elettorale). Or you might not: abstaining from voting (astensionismo) is increasingly common in Italy. 

As soon as voting ends, we’ll get an exit poll (this one’s easy – ‘gli exit poll’) and by the early hours of the morning, we should have the early results (risultati preliminari)

The parties – and campaign slogans

Italy has a large number of political parties and an ever-shifting political landscape, meaning some of the bigger names in this election may already be familiar while others were previously unknown.

Here’s a quick rundown of the main parties in the mix this time, their names in both Italian and English, and the slogans they’re using:

Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia, or FdI).

Slogan: ‘Pronti’ – The hard-right party expected to take the largest share of the vote has the single word slogan pronti, meaning ‘are you ready?’

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

Is Italy ready for election season, and a new government? – A campaign poster shows hard-right Brothers of Italy party leader Giorgia Meloni, who is likely to become the next prime minister. Photo: Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

The League (Lega)

Slogan: ‘Credo’ – meaning ‘I believe’. Matteo Salvini’s right-wing populist party was told off by Catholic bishops for using a slogan with religious themes in attempt to appeal to the country’s conservative, religious voters. Posters have since featured various longer slogans, including ‘credo negli italiani‘ (I believe in the Italians).

Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle, M5S)

Slogan: ‘Dalla parte giusta’ – The populist party now headed by former PM Giuseppe Conte has chosen a simple slogan meaning ‘on the right side’.

Democratic Party (Partito democratico, PD)

Slogan: ‘Scegli’ – another one-word campaign slogan, this one means ‘choose’. Political analysts say it’s being used by Italy’s second-biggest party as a way to highlight its opposition to Brothers of Italy.

Italian Democratic Party (PD) leader Enrico Letta is asking voters to ‘choose’ his party over the ruight-wing coalition. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Azione + Italia Viva (Action and Italy Alive)

Slogan: ‘Italia, sul serio’ – These two small centrist parties are running together for election, presenting themselves as the sensible, moderate choice with the campaign slogan ‘Italy, seriously’. 

Forza Italia (Variously translated as ‘Go Italy’ or ‘Forward Italy’)

Slogan: none. Silvio Berlusconi’s party has chosen not to use one particular slogan this time, though some campaign posters feature the words ‘oggi più che mai‘, meaning ‘now more than ever’.

Find our complete guide to who’s who in the Italian elections here.

Italian ‘politichese’

Political-speak (or ‘politichese’) can be as dense and impenetrable in Italian as in any other language. 

But it can also be illuminating to learn a few of the words and phrases used in political discussions (and by journalists in particular) to describe the peculiarities of the Italian system.

Here are a few examples:

Toto-nomi

The prefix toto- is used in Italian news reports wherever speculation abounds: it comes from the football pools or totalizzatore calcistico (‘Football totalizer’, or football sweepstake), known as Totocalcio for short.

Totonomi then translates as something like ‘name sweepstake’. It’s an adaptation of toto-nomine (‘nomination sweep’) – which at election time is used for speculation about the most widely-tipped candidates for various offices.

You’ll also see toto- in totopoltrone (‘parliamentary seat sweep’), or totoministri (‘minister sweep’, referring to who will make the cabinet in a newly elected government).

A variation on this is fantapolitica, which similarly comes from fantacalcio, or Italian fantasy football. This word is used to talk about hypothetical election results, government coalitions, and future cabinet members, whether these are realistic or improbable: fantasy politics, if you will.

Former Prime Minister Matteo in parliament. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Ipotesi

An ipotesi is, as you might guess, a hypothesis or theory. When used in newspaper headlines, it fulfils a similar role to toto~, allowing journalists to speculate as to what may have happened or be about to happen.

In the context of election news, you’ll usually see ipotesi followed by the last name of a potential nominee, e.g. ‘l’ipotesi Melonii‘ or ‘l’ipotesi Conte‘, along with discussion of the likely success of that person’s policy or candidacy.

Trasformismo

A time-honoured Italian tradition, this is the act of switching your political allegiance depending on how the wind blows.

Gattopardismo

Un gattopardo is a leopard, so what is ‘gattopardismo‘? Not too distant from trasformismo, it’s a word used to describe the act of adapting your attitudes to the changing political climate in order to maintain a position of power and influence – something political figures in Italy are regularly accused of doing.

The concept was described in the book Il gattopardo by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the most frequently-quoted line of which is: “Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come è, bisogna che tutto cambi” (If we want everything to remain as it is, everything must change).

Poltrone

Why would a power-hungry politician be keen to deny that he is “hunting for armchairs”? In this case, such a statement has nothing to do with furniture shopping. Una poltrona does of course mean “armchair” or “seat” and it can be used to talk about a job or position within a company, or in this case, a government. 

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered on how Italy’s elections work

In a political context, a politician on the hunt for poltrone is attempting to gain important ‘seats’ or positions for his party members within the government. Expect to see this word in news reports following the election.

Political nicknames

Some politicians and political parties in Italy have well-known nicknames.

For example, the League is sometimes referred to as ‘Il Carroccio’, the name for a medieval ox-drawn altar used for pre-battle church services. This was used as a symbol by the party back when it was called the Northern League.

And League leader Matteo Salvini is often referred to by his supporters as ‘Il Capitano’, or ‘The Captain’, which seems to be a reference to his preferred policy of leaving migrant rescue ships stranded at sea.

Meanwhile, Italia Viva leader and former PM Matteo Renzi is known as “il rottomatore” (“the scrapper”, or “the wrecker”) due to his unpopular habit of destabilising coalition governments.

Silvio Berlusconi meanwhile is often referred to in media reports as “l’immortale” (the immortal) because of his long political career, which continues today despite numerous sex scandals, a tax fraud conviction, regular health scares, and his advancing age.

There are of course plenty of other, more insulting nicknames used in Italian politics, which we won’t list here.

Is there another word or phrase you think we should add to the list? Please get in touch by email and let us know.

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