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italian language For Members

Ten Italian words stolen into English and reinvented

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Ten Italian words stolen into English and reinvented
Photo: Unsplash/Tye Doring"

Some Italian words seem familiar to English speakers. But use them with caution, because they might not mean what you think.

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When you started studying Italian, we're sure you quickly noticed that lots of words look quite similar to English words. These are of course often the ones we find easiest to remember.

Some Italian words are similar to English when both have a Latin root, so we can thank the academic language for helping us to better understand Italian.

READ ALSO: The Italian versions of 11 famous English sayings

Some obvious examples are adjectives like impossibile and difficile, or verbs like aggiustare (to fix, or adjust). Sometimes the meaning has shifted over time, creating some classic 'false friends', such as annoiarsi ("to be bored”, not “to be annoyed”) 

Other, more modern Italian words can also look familiar. Not because they have Latin ancestors, but because we've simply stolen them.

And just as the original meanings of those Latin words can shift, so too can our understanding of these words borrowed from modern Italian.

Here are some that might cause confusion, or just a few raised eyebrows, if used in the way we'd use them in English.

Al fresco

Used in English to describe doing something such as eating outside. But if you ask someone to have dinner with you al fresco in Italy, they'll either be confused or concerned.

In Italian, al fresco means “in the fresh/cold,” which can figuratively mean “in the fridge”, or even “in jail.”

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Confetti

English speakers understand this as the colourful paper thrown at weddings, and confusingly, it's also wedding-related in Italian. Here, confetti are sugared almonds – the traditional sweets given at weddings - but thankfully not thrown. The Italian word for confetti paper is coriandoli.

Curriculum

This one will be useful if you're studying abroad in Italy. For English speakers, this word means the subject matter of your course at school or university. In Italian, curriculum refers to your CV (curriculum vitae) or, for Americans, your resume.

Camera

We take photos with it, but Italians live in it. Camera is a word for a room in Italian, such as a camera da letto (bedroom). If you want to snap some pictures instead, the word you'll need is fotocamera.

Photo: Blake Richard Verdoom/Unsplash

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Espresso

Another Italian coffee-related word. You might be surprised to hear that we English speakers probably use this one in relation to coffee more than Italians do. That's because in Italy an espresso is just a standard caffè (coffee) and it's what you'll get if you simply order un caffè per favore.

Some baristas will check that you want un caffè normale. But they're unlikely to call it an espresso because, well, here it's just a coffee.

READ ALSO: The 12 ways speaking Italian will mess up your English

Latte

It might mean a tall, milky coffee in Italian-style coffee shops elsewhere, but in Italian latte just means “milk”. So if you ask for latte in Italy, don't be surprised if you get a glass of milk - or just a puzzled look.

If you want coffee in your milk, you’re better off ordering a caffè latte (which may still look different to what you're used to at home) or sticking with a cappuccino.

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Panini

Want a panini to go with your coffee? Well, this isn't quite what you'll need to ask for.

To us, a panini is a specific kind of flattened, grilled ciabatta sandwich, but to Italians it's a grammatical error. The word just means 'sandwiches' (plural) of any type. For a grilled sandwich (just one), ask for a panino tostato instead.

Pepperoni

What could be more Italian than a pepperoni pizza? Quite a lot of things, it turns out.

Don’t order this unless, for some reason, you want your pizza covered in tiny bell peppers. For a spicy sausage topping, try requesting salame piccante, or just ordering a pizza diavola.” i

Photo: Blake Richard Verdoom/Unsplash

Bimbo

We might know this word as an insult, used to mean an unintelligent woman. But Italians use the word instead to mean a very young boy. (Bimba is a little girl, and bimbi is the plural for small children.)

READ ALSO: Ten Italian words that come from other languages

Stiletto

Spiky stiletto heels might be something we associate with Italian style icons, but be careful how you talk about your new designer shoes. In Italian, stiletto just means a small dagger. If you mean spiky high heels, say tacchi a spillo.

Which other words could be added to the list? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Comments (1)

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Anonymous 2019/11/15 18:32
I thought that the italian word "Espresso", when talking coffee, means "pressed" which describes the process of brewing coffee by extracting it from the beans ground by pressing action, and not to describe an "express" or fast-prepared coffee as stated in this article, correct?

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