Italian expression of the day: ‘Che palle’

'Che palle' written on a chalkboard background.
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Learning this cheeky phrase doesn't have to be a drag.

There are certain things that crop up whatever language you’re speaking. One such thing – or rather, two – are balls.

Like English and many other languages, Italian has a habit of invoking balls, and just like in English, they’re not the kind you play pingpong with (we hope).

Italians use the same word for the sporty kind of ball and the, um, anatomical kind: una palla (‘a ball’) or le palle (‘balls’). And we could spend a whole week just talking about all the expressions that involve them. 

Avere le palle (‘to have balls’) means you’re bold or brave, rompere le palle a qualcuno (‘to break someone’s balls’) is to be a pain in their neck, raccontare palle (‘to tell balls’) is to lie or tell tall tales, while togliersi dalle palle (literally, ‘to take off by the balls’) means to get the hell out of here.

There are more, but for now let’s concentrate on one of the commonest Italian idioms that feature balls (and also one of the easiest to use): che palle!

Literally ‘what balls!’, it does not correspond to the British exclamation ‘bollocks’ (nonsense); rather, it means ‘what a pain’, ‘how annoying’, or ‘that sucks’.


Use it to demonstrate your frustration, boredom or disappointment.

È già lunedì… che palle.
It’s Monday already…  what a bummer.

Che palle ‘sti compiti!
This homework is such a drag!

While talking about balls might seem a little risqué, most Italians won’t bat an eyelid if they hear you say che palle – it’s one of those cheeky phrases that sound ruder in English than in Italian. Find more of those here.

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

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