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The top ten Italian words that just don't translate into English

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The top ten Italian words that just don't translate into English
Some italian words can leave English speakers scratching their heads. Photo: Depositphotos

You may not be able to translate these Italian words, but you'll be glad you know what they mean.


Every language contains certain words or phrases that can’t be comfortably translated, and Italian is no exception.

READ ALSO: 10 of the most common Italian translation fails

You’ll come across some of them in everyday speech, while others are a bit more unusual. Here are just ten of our favourite 'untranslatable' Italian words.



This tricky word has many different meanings that don't always directly translate. Typically, it’s translated as “even if”, “maybe” or “probably” in a sentence.

As an exclamation, magari is an expression of a strong desire. For example, if someone asks if you’d like a free trip to Italy, you could say 'magari!'.

Although there’s no exact equivalent in English, in this context it means: “If only!”


The next time you feel the need for a nap after indulging in a hearty Italian lunch, blame abbiocco, the drowsiness that follows eating a big meal.

Less dramatic than “food coma”, it's a gentle word that evokes lazing around in the shade on a sunny afternoon.


Speaking of lazing around, that may be a close translation for this beautiful verb.

Coming from the word meriggio (noon), it means to rest at noon in a shady spot. Perhaps the most famous use of this word can be found in 'Meriggiare pallido e assorto', a poem by the 20th-century poet Eugenio Montale.


You could translate the preposition addosso as “upon” or “on top of”, but this little word is packed with so much meaning that nothing in the English language can quite do it justice.


You may have heard the phrase 'Non me ne frega' uttered in Italy, meaning “I don’t give a damn!”

Italian also has menefreghismo, a noun based on the verb fregare, which used to describe this way of thinking.



As a pejorative, qualunque can be translated as “whatever”, to indicate indifference. The noun qualunquismo means an attitude of distrust, scepticism and apathy, or “whateverism”.


This word is not simply a word, but a very Italian way of communicating. Sottointeso is made up of the Italian words sotto (under) and inteso (intended), and you could say this word is used to talk about the meaning beneath a message.

In Italy, it's common (and even desirable) to use a manner of speaking or writing in which you cloak your message in layers of meaning - or in hundreds of unnecessary words. As we don't have an exact word for this concept in English, the Italian word is occasionally borrowed to describe it.


Do you suffer from the winter blues? This word is for you.

It's not always found in the Italian dictionary, and spellings vary - but in some parts of Italy you'll hear meteopatico being used in conversational Italian to describe a person who wants to hide under the bedcovers until spring.


One of those untranslatable words that is uniquely Italian, and also fun to say.  Essentially, sprezzatura is the art of doing something extremely well without showing that it took any effort.


The word to describe the aperitivo (a pre-dinner drink with snacks) that's so abundant it replaces dinner itself.

A concept that's especially popular among students, apericena buffets are in increasingly popular option for a cheap, casual dinner and a drink or two. And it's definitely not the same thing as happy hour.

We couldn't list every untranslatable Italian word, but there are plenty more curious words and phrases to discover here. Please leave a comment below to let us know about your favourites.


Comments (2)

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Anonymous 2020/11/21 11:44
Love this! May I add magari = I wish; meriggiare = such a lovely word: Montale's poem is one of my favourites; adosso = too near; meteopatico = weather sensitive; I never use sprezzatura - will do so from now on! Apericena (horrible word) for when you know you should be offering a supper, but can't be bothered, so you put everything in fridge on the table with a couple of candles. Fun article. Thanks
Anonymous 2020/10/17 14:19
Enjoyed this article a lot and just discovered by two new favourite words - abbiocco and meriggiare:)

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