‘Prisencolinensinainciusol’: Here’s what the nonsensical ‘English’ song actually means in Italy

In 1972, Italian singer Adriano Celentano wrote a song with nonsensical lyrics supposed to sound like American English. It went to number one - and is still being shared online today.

‘Prisencolinensinainciusol': Here’s what the nonsensical 'English' song actually means in Italy
Italian actor and singer Adriano Celentano wrote "Prisencolinensinainciusol” in 1972. Photo: AFP

‘The song was number one in the Italian charts despite the fact that it wasn’t performed in Italian – or in any language.

It went on to become number one in France, Germany and Belgium, too.

The lyrics to “Prisencolinensinainciusol” were intended to mimic the way American English sounds to non-English speakers, as Celentano is believed to have been trying to prove that Italians would like any song in English, despite having no idea what was being said.

The video for “Prisencolinensinainciusol” has been widely shared on social media. Screenshot: Youtube

More than that, he said the song has an “angry tone” because of his frustration about “the fact that people don’t communicate.”

“I like American slang – which, for a singer, is much easier to sing than Italian. I thought that I would write a song which would only have as its theme the inability to communicate,” he said in a 2012 interview on US radio station NPR.

“And to do this, I had to write a song where the lyrics didn’t mean anything,” he said.

He insisted that American English sounds “exactly like that”.

Whether you agree or not, you do have to listen to the song – and see the video – to appreciate it.

The video, which features singer Claudia Mori, who is also Celentano’s wife, was widely shared online on Thursday after resurfacing on Facebook.

Celentano said he never wrote the lyrics down, but recorded them over a looped beat.
Fans have since attempted to write down the nonsensical language used in the song.

Celentano was far from the first or only Italian performer to be heavily influenced by American culture and the English language at that time.

After World War II, the influence of US culture spread rapidly across Europe – and it was particularly strong in Italy.

The phenomenon was perhaps most famously captured in the 1954 film Un Americano a Roma (An American in Rome), in which actor Alberto Sordi plays a young Italian who becomes obsessed with American culture, starts wearing jeans and a baseball cap and ditches his red wine for milk. 

And of course, there’s Tu vuo’ fa l’americano (“You Want to Be American”) by Renato Carosone, a song written in 1956 about a young Neapolitan who is trying to impress a girl.

Since then, countless Italian songwriters have peppered their lyrics with English words and phrases – however, they are usually real words, even if the meaning sometimes gets lost in translation.

READ ALSO: Ten English words which will make you sound cool in Italian

Celentano’s nonsensical ‘English’ song may be almost 50 years old, but it remains popular today – perhaps because it still says something about the relationship  Italians have with the English language.

On Thursday the video resurfaced on social media, and was met with incredulity by younger Italians, as well as those from other countries who hadn’t encountered it before.

But it had never really disappeared. It remained instantly recognisable to many people, as it could often be heard on Italian television.

In 2016, Italian state broadcaster Rai produced a modern tribute to Prisencolinensinainciusol, with a dance routine performed to a remixed version by Benny Benassi.

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La Bella Vita: Italian trains, book fairs and perfecting your pizza order

From seeing Italy by rail to ordering pizza like a true Neapolitan, our new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Italian trains, book fairs and perfecting your pizza order

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really not a big fan of dubbing: the ubiquitous Italian film voiceover which gives famous Hollywood actors voices nothing like their own and leaves their lips moving out of sync with their speech. Some people say they like dubbing as it gives them a chance to practise Italian listening skills, others say they’d rather watch Italian-made films for that purpose. Personally I think it renders films unwatchable even if you speak Italian well, since the effect is so distracting and unsettling.

Either way, you don’t get much choice at the cinema. Almost all foreign-language films are still dubbed in Italy – a practice which began in the early 20th century amid widespread illiteracy and was enthusiastically embraced by Fascist propagandists in the 1930s. It’s not clear why these voiceovers are still so popular in Italy today, but if you’re anything like me you may be pleased to know that there are, at least sometimes, alternatives. We looked at where and how you can watch films in English or other languages in Italy:

Is there a way to see films without dubbing in Italy? 

If you prefer the written word, Italy has myriad book fairs, and literary festivals held annually all over the country. They’re not always well known outside of the country, because most of these events focus on Italian writers and require good knowledge of Italian, though some feature at least a few talks in English.

There are dozens of festivals taking place up and down Italy this year. We’ve put together a small selection of the best fairs and festivals to attend in Italy in 2023 (and beyond).

Eight of Italy’s best book fairs and literary festivals in 2023

The picturesque town of Tuscania, Lazio. Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash

If you’re planning a trip to Rome this year, or if you live in Rome and fancy a weekend adventure this spring, the surrounding region of Lazio is absolutely brimming with fascinating places to visit just a short drive or train journey from the city.

Lazio is overlooked by most visitors in favour of its northern neighbours Tuscany and Umbria – which means many places here are often lesser known and unlikely to be crowded. We couldn’t fit all of our favourite spots onto one list, so we’ve concentrated on the northern and western areas, but please feel free to add any of your own suggestions in the comments section at the bottom of this article.

14 reasons why Lazio should be your next Italian holiday destination

Train travel is a scenic, safe and usually speedy option for hopping between major cities in Italy, particularly in the north and centre of the country. If you’re planning to use Italy’s rail network on your next trip, here’s a guide to the routes, tickets, companies, costs and everything else you’ll need to know to make sure your journey goes smoothly.

Everything you need to know about train travel in Italy

And everyone knows how to order a pizza… right? In Italy you might find this can be a slightly more complex process than expected, particularly if you venture far from the tourist trail.

Do you know your rossa from your bianca? What about the different types of impasto? Then there’s the toppings loved in Italy – but not so much elsewhere. Here are a few things to be aware of if you want to navigate the pizzeria menu like you’ve lived in Naples all your life.

Five tips for ordering pizza in Italy

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Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]