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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Ten mildly insulting ways to describe someone in Italian

Here's what to say when people get on the wrong side of you in Italy.

Ten mildly insulting ways to describe someone in Italian
When someone gets on the wrong side of you in Italy, there's no shortage of ways to describe what's wrong with them. Photo by Siavash Ghanbari on Unsplash

While Italy is known for its friendly population, you’ll no doubt come across a few more difficult characters before long. And some colourful word choices will no doubt be in order when later describing these encounters.

The Italian language offers us endless crude anatomical expressions, and countless ways to call someone a moron. But if you want to get a bit more specific or creative when describing exactly what is wrong with the person who just crossed you, we’re here to help.

These aren’t by any means the rudest words in the Italian language, so you won’t be blurting out something truly inappropriate that’s going to cause mortal offence.

But as you’d expect of a good Italian insult, they’re all extremely descriptive, fun to learn, and even more satisfying to say.

Furbacchione – sly or cunning person

In Italy, the concept of furbizia (cunning or slyness) or the need to be furbo – the overwhelming desire to get one over on other people – is very well known. It sounds a bit like the English word ‘furtive’ because it has the same root.

A particuarly sly and slippery character then can described as a furbacchione.

Stress it like this: fur-bak-YOH-neh. Now, don’t you feel better?

Imbroglione – trickster, cheat, con artist, fraud

This is one I hear a lot in southern Italy, where being furbo (see above) is an elevated art form and, if you’re involved in any sort of financial transaction or business deal, you can very quickly start to feel like everyone’s out to screw you over.

If you get that sort of feeling, it’s a sure sign that the person you’re dealing with is an imbroglione.

Depending on context, this word can mean anything from ‘cheat’ to ‘bullshitter’, but it’s definitely never a compliment.

Bugiardo – liar

If someone has gone beyond being a bit slippery and is just telling you outright porkies, here’s the word to use.

Una bugia (pronounced boo-jia) is a lie, and the person telling them is a bugiardo/a.

Bonus weird language fact: A bugiardino is not a ‘little liar’, as you might imagine, but in many regions of Italy the word has come to mean a ‘leaflet’ which is jokingly acknowledged to be unhelpful, either because it omits important information or simply contains lies. It’s most commonly used to describe the instruction leaflets found inside packs of medication: make of that what you will.

Fannullone – layabout

Literally ‘a big do-nothing’, the fannullone (from fa nulla, or ‘do nothing’) probably can’t even be bothered to indulge in a spot of furbizia. You could also use the word ozioso, meaning ‘idler’.

Perditempo – timewaster

Perdere tempo means ‘to waste time’ and un perditempo is a person who does just that.

This can be a difficult concept in Italy, where efficiency is not exactly everyone’s top priority. But it’s used particularly in the context of wasting a salespersons’ time – think of ‘tyre-kickers’ at a car showroom.

READ ALSO: 21 mildly interesting facts about the Italian language

Malalingua – gossip-monger

If you live in a small (or not so small) town in Italy, you’ll have noticed that everyone knows everyone else and few people mind their own business.

While un pettegolo is the word for a garden-variety gossip, someone particularly fond of spreading malicious or scandalous tales could also be called una malalingua (literally “bad tongue”), which makes them sound like a fairytale witch.

Chiacchierone – blabbermouth

This is another word for a gossip, as well as someone who can’t keep secrets, or just simply can’t stop talking.

From chiacchierare (to chatter), the chiacchierone probably asks a lot of intrusive questions and loves the sound of his or her own voice.

READ ALSO:

Scroccone – freeloader

That person who stayed at your house in Italy gratis for several weeks, ate all your food, and didn’t even say grazie? Feel free to describe them as a scroccone.

Approfittatore – exploiter, opportunist

 
From the word approffitare, which roughly means ‘to take advantage of’ or ‘to benefit from’, an approfittatore is a person who does just that at the expense of others – and doesn’t feel the slightest bit bad about it.

Menefreghista – someone who couldn’t care less

This one doesn’t translate too easily into English. It derives from menefreghismo, the word used in Italian to describe a culture of people just not caring.

This in turn derives from the Italian phrase me ne frego, which roughly means ‘I don’t give a shit’ – a phrase no doubt used often by the menefreghista.

You might also enjoy our guide to the gestures and insults you’ll need when arguing like an Italian, as well as a list of the most creative insults the language has to offer.

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Qualcosa non torna’

Does this phrase add up to you?

Italian expression of the day: 'Qualcosa non torna'

Ever get the feeling that things aren’t quite right, that perhaps you’re missing something, that something fishy might be going on?

In Italian you can express that with the phrase qualcosa non torna (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-TORR-na’).

Qualcosa you’ll probably recognise as meaning ‘something’, and non of course here means ‘doesn’t’, so the slight wild card for anglophones is the verb torna.

That’s because tornare means ‘to return’ in most contexts – but it can also mean to balance, to add up.

Ho calcolato le spese, il conto torna.
I added up the costs, the bill checks out.

I conti dell’azienda tornano.
The company’s accounts add up.

The Math Seems To Check Out! GIF - The House Will Ferrell The Math Seems To Check Out GIFs

The word can also refer more nebulously to something sounding or feeling right – or not.

Secondo me c’è qualche parte del mio discorso che ancora non torna.
I think there are parts of my speech that still aren’t quite right.

And when something doesn’t torna – that’s when you know things are off. It’s the kind of expression you’re likely to hear in detective shows or true crime podcasts. 

Qualcosa non torna nel loro racconto.
Something about their story’s off.

C’è solo una cosa che non torna.
There’s just one thing that doesn’t add up.

It’s similar to how we can talk in English about someone’s account of an event not ‘squaring’ with the facts, and in fact you can also use that metaphor in Italian – qualcosa non quadra (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-QUAHD-ra’) – to mean the same thing as qualcosa non torna.

Trash Italiano Simona Ventura GIF - Trash Italiano Simona Ventura Qualcosa Non Quadra GIFs

You can adjust either phrase slightly to say ‘things don’t add up’, in the plural: this time you’ll want le cose instead of qualcosa, and to conjugate the tornare or the quadrare in their plural forms.

Ci sono molte cose che non tornano in quest’affare.
There are a lot of things about this affair that don’t add up.

Le loro storie non quadrano.
Their stories don’t square.

You can also add pronouns into the phrase to talk about something seeming off ‘to you’ or anyone else.

La sua storia ti torna?
Does his story add up to you?

C’è qualcosa in tutto questo che non mi torna.
There’s something about all this that doesn’t seem right to me.

alfonso qualcosa non mi torna GIF by Isola dei Famosi

The next time something strange is afoot, you’ll know just how to talk about it in Italian. Montalbano, move aside…

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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