Italian word of the day: 'Scioglilingua'

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Italian word of the day: 'Scioglilingua'

Can you get your tongue around this Italian word?


In Italian, scioglilingua (click here to hear it pronounced) is an autological word - that is, one that describes itself.

It means 'tongue twister', and with that gli sound that doesn't exist in English, it's not the easiest word to say.


Lingua is the Italian for 'tongue' (which can also mean 'language'), and the verb sciogliere can mean to loosen, untie or release, so a scioglilingua is literally a 'tongue loosener'.

È un vero scioglilingua.
It's a real tongue twister.

Questo acronimo mi sembra uno scioglilingua.
This acronym seems like a mouthful to me.

There's just as wide a range of tongue twisters available in Italian as there are in English. If you want to test yourself (this is an especially good one for those trying to get their tongue around gli), try:

Sul tagliere l'aglio taglia: non tagliare la tovaglia. La tovaglia non è aglio: se la tagli fai uno sbaglio.

('On the chopping board, cut the garlic; don't cut the tablecloth. The tablecloth isn't garlic; if you cut it you've messed up').

You can find some other tongue twisters for practicing your rapid-fire Italian here.

You might see the words sciogliere and lingua used in combination in other contexts, none of which involve tongue twisters.

To deliberately sciogliere your own lingua can mean to loosen or 'untie' your tongue so that you speak fluently and with confidence.

The La Stampa newspaper, for example, suggests 7 trucchi per sciogliere la lingua durante l'esame orale - seven tricks to loosen your tongue during your oral exam.

Mi si scoglie la lingua quando sono con lei.
I become a smooth talker when I'm with her.

To sciogliere la lingua accidentally, however, can mean to let something slip out that perhaps shouldn't have.

Il vino gli ha fatto sciogliere la lingua.
The wine loosened his tongue.

È stato il tipo di cena che scioglie la lingua.
It was the kind of dinner that loosens the tongue.


And if you sciogliere someone else's lingua, that means you're forcing them to reveal something to you, perhaps against their will.

Conosco diversi modi per fargli sciogliere la lingua.
I know a few ways to make them talk.

Una settimana al freddo ti ha sciolto la lingua?
Did a week out in the cold loosen your tongue?

So here's your challenge for this week: see if you can get make your way round some Italian tongue twisters while still knowing when to hold your tongue.

See our complete Word of the Day archive here. Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.


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