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'Anglicismi': The English words borrowed into Italian - and what they mean

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
'Anglicismi': The English words borrowed into Italian - and what they mean
The number of English-derived words used in Italian is believed to be increasing all the time, thanks mainly to the influence of social media. Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

From 'cringe' to 'zapping' and 'smart working', here's a look at some of the most commonly-used English terms borrowed into Italian - and why their meanings sometimes elude native English speakers.


Traditionalists have long railed against ‘Itangliano’ and what they see as anglicizzazione (anglicisation or ‘Englishification’) of the Italian language, particularly when English words come to eclipse perfectly good Italian ones.

But the ruling party in Italy’s government, in its most recent effort to tap into cultural divides, has taken things a few steps further and proposed banning the use of foreign words in place of Italian ones - with suggested fines of up to 100,000 euros for businesses, public offices, universities and other institutions which persist in dropping non-Italian words and phrases into their “official communications”.

READ ALSO: ‘Anglomania’: Why Italy's government wants to restrict use of English words

The MPs behind the bill argue steep penalties are needed to stop the widespread use of foreign - and particularly English - words, which they say “demeans” the Italian language and even poses a threat to Italian “nationality and identity".

While this is just a draft law at this stage, and there’s a good chance nothing will ever come of it, the proposal has reignited a long-running debate in Italy between language purists and those who believe languages are fluid, interconnected, and constantly evolving.

The number of English-derived words used in Italian is believed to be increasing all the time, thanks primarily to the influence of social media, and today almost 9,000 anglicismi feature in the Treccani dictionary out of a total of around 800,000 words in the Italian language.

But the habit of peppering Italian sentences with English words is nothing new - particularly among Italian teenagers, advertising executives, and politicians.

Many Italians have long expressed their dislike of these imported words, which are widely seen as ‘trendy’; the word ‘trendy’ itself has come to be a more fashionable replacement for the Italian equivalent, alla moda - even though the word is deemed unacceptably dated by native English-speaking teens.

Words like computer, meeting, call and even brainstorming are used in some Italian offices. Photo by Anna Vi on Unsplash

The word ‘weekend’ is now in common usage (though fine settimana is also still used) and ‘privacy’ is ubiquitous, likely because there’s no easy Italian equivalent word. Italian teens have also taken to using ‘cringe’ to express feelings of acute awkwardness, much to the bemusement of their English-speaking peers, for whom the word belongs to the same excruciatingly uncool era as ‘trendy’.


Some more recently-adopted anglicismi likely to provoke an exasperated eye-roll from Italian parents and teachers include verbs like chattare (to send an instant message), bookare (as in booking a band or artist for a show), or - a favourite of teenage gamers - killare.

There’s also the online-dating derived ghostare and friendzoneare, plus shareare (which would otherwise be condividere in Italian) whatsappare (which is when you send someone a whatsappino) and even spoilerare (to give away the plot of a film).

READ ALSO: Puns and plot spoilers: How English movie titles are translated into Italian

In Italian workplaces too you’re likely to hear words like ‘meeting’ and ‘computer’ used regularly - and native English speakers may find they need to use them, but with a heavy Italian accent, in order to be understood by Italian colleagues.

While such words are often borrowed to describe new concepts which the Italian language doesn't have a word for, this isn't always the case. Regardless, those arguing in favour of limits on the use of English often say Italian-derivded versions of new words should be promoted instead - though whether teenagers would actually adopt them is another question.


Among most Italians, by far the most common complaint about such English verbs conjugated in Italian however is not that they’re unnecessary, or that they threaten Italian national identity: much worse, it’s that they sound ugly - or at least not as beautiful as their regular Italian equivalents.

In fact, many of these Italianised English verbs, many of which are now listed as new words by Italy’s respected language guardians at the Accademia della Crusca, also featured among the “most hated” anglicismi according to a poll of Italians conducted in 2022, along with terms including ‘brainstorming’ and ‘coffee break’.

Coffee break or pausa caffè - which would you rather have? (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

For native English speakers in Italy, the difficulty with English words adopted into Italian is more that their meanings often change or get lost in translation, leading to misunderstandings or just bewilderment.

One common example is ‘trekking’, which is what Italians call hiking or hill walking. For native English speakers, trekking would be more applicable if you’re planning to spend several weeks traversing some sort of remote and hostile terrain.

Similarly, ‘footing’ has often been used in Italian to mean ‘jogging’, though thankfully that one seems to have fallen out of use lately; ‘zapping’ can be used to mean flicking between TV channels, which we might call channel-surfing. Meanwhile, a coach or bus is un pullman - derived from the name of a type of luxurious train carriage in the early 1900s - while Italian men call their underpants un slip and their tuxedo un smoking.


In other cases, an English-language word or phrase that fell out of use decades ago in English-speaking countries - and which perhaps had narrow usage to begin with - remains in use in Italy today.

READ ALSO: 10 of the most common Italian translation fails

One example of this is the phrase ‘radical chic’, a term from 1970s America which is often employed by Italian populist politicians today to mean something like ‘champagne socialist’ and suggests privilege and the adoption of left-wing views seen as fashionable. The term was famously used by the Italian culture minister recently to criticise the use of foreign words in Italian - a habit which he said, without a hint of irony, was “snobismo molto radical chic”. The word ‘snobismo’ meanwhile is derived from the English 'snob', and translates as 'snobbery'.

In other cases, an English-sounding word or phrase used in Italian is so unfamiliar to native speakers that we might suspect it has been entirely made up.

There’s ‘smart working’, which is what many Italians call remote work or working from home, and it’s often assumed this is what we call it in English-speaking countries, too. It’s not clear exactly where that one came from, but it was used prolifically by the former government of Giuseppe Conte during the pandemic.


In fact, Italian politicians are notorious for dropping English words into their speeches and official documents. New laws sometimes even have English names, such as the 'jobs act' or 'sugar tax' of a few years ago - and who could ever forget the coronavirus 'green pass'? It did have an Italian equivalent name, certificazione verde Covid-19, but everyone, even including health officials, mainly used the English version.

There was also 'lockdown' (used by Italian media instead of confinamento) and the frequent use of 'booster' for a top-up vaccine shot - which older Italians regularly heard as busta (envelope).

And in advertising, you may have noticed signs for a ‘Self Bar’ or ‘Self Bank’ have proliferated in Italy in recent years. While the intended meaning is clear enough (a vending machine or ATM), it’s the sort of thing that will keep English grammar pedants up at night.

Of course, linguistic borrowing goes both ways, and the meanings of Italian terms borrowed into English tend to shift, too - see ‘al fresco’, for example.

There are thousands more words derived from English that are currently in use in Italy. Do you have a favourite - or least favourite - that’s not mentioned here? Please share it with us in the comments section below.


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