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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 WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Essere al verde’

If one of your Italian pals claims to be ‘at the green’ during your next night out, prepare to pay for their drinks

Italian expression of the day: 'Essere al verde'

Who hasn’t at least once in their life opened their online banking app and stared with absolute dread at the balance, wondering how on earth they managed to squander away their savings in the space of a week?

If it’s any comfort, it happens to the best of us and we are definitely not here to judge.

But let us not stray from the purpose of this article, which is to teach you the Italian way to say that you’re stone broke. So, the next time you’re as poor as a church mouse, you can share the news with linguistic richness, at least.

One of, if not the, most popular Italian idiom on the subject is ‘essere al verde’, which can be roughly translated to ‘being at the green’. Naturally, any possible use of the expression requires the speaker to properly conjugate the verb ‘to be’ (‘essere’), as in the following instances:

Q: Vuoi andare a cena fuori stasera?

A: Scusami. Sono al verde. Facciamo la prossima volta.

Q: Would you like to dine out tonight?

A: I’m sorry. I’m running low on funds. Next time.

Q: Riusciresti a prestarmi 20 euro?

A: No e non mi interessa se sei al verde.

Q: Could I borrow 20 euros from you?

A: No and I don’t care that you’re feeling the pinch.

As you can see from the above examples, the expression is mostly used in informal, ordinary conversations, though it is sometimes used in published pieces of work, especially in rather humorous and/or provocative newspaper articles and comic books.

– Di certo oggi i conti del Carroccio sono al verde. [From Italian newspaper La Repubblica, June 29th 2018]

– Surely, the Carroccio’s finances are strained at the moment.

Now that you have a basic grasp of how to use the expression, you might be wondering where ‘essere al verde’ came from.

You might actually be puzzled as to why Italians associate the colour green with being penniless seeing as, in the English-speaking world, the most popular hue for such delicate matters is red. 

Well, much like many other Italian idioms, ‘essere al verde’ originated from a pretty interesting ancient custom. In Renaissance-era Florence, wax candles whose bottom ends had been painted green were used to time public auctions. The latter were officially declared finished as soon as the candle would be ‘at the green’ (‘al verde’). 

Over time, the expression ‘al verde’ made its way out of Tuscan auction houses and became extremely popular all across the country as a way to say that someone was running low on something. For instance, if an army was ‘al verde di soldati’, it had very few soldiers left among its ranks. 

Eventually, the expression was also applied to personal finances – or, I should say, the dearth thereof. ‘Essere al verde di denari’ (i.e. ‘having little money left’) quickly became a widely used colloquial idiom and that’s precisely the lexical form that has made it all the way into modern Italian.

These days, native speakers are far more likely to use the shortened version of the expression (‘essere al verde’) rather than the full-length one (‘essere al verde di denari/soldi’) because, well, who likes to be long-winded when being strapped for cash?

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

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