16 Italian Words Without a Direct English Translation

By OptiLingo

Which Italian Words Should You Learn for a Deeper Cultural Appreciation?

The Italian language is a sophisticated Romance language that reflects a vast and various Italian culture that has existed for centuries. While it’s one of the more approachable languages for English speakers, that isn’t to say that it’s simple. There’s still plenty of reason to look for a quick to way to learn Italian, especially when there are so many words that do not have an English translation.

However, the words on this list go great with the right language program to help add more insight into the beautiful Italian culture. This is because these words are uniquely Italian. Looking over this list of will give you a deeper insight while helping prepare you for further success in your Italian language program.


If you’ve ever sat at a table or up at a bar, then you know what a culaccino is. It’s the stain that’s left on the table after you set a cold drink down without a coaster.


This is a word used to describe someone who doesn’t seem to care much about anything. While there are words in English to describe someone with a carefree attitude, they adjectives. In Italian, “menefreghista” is the noun form of someone who often just doesn’t care.


Summer sun can be quite enjoyable, but sometimes those hot days turn out to be a bit too crisp, and you find yourself to seek a bit of shade for some relief. If you do so, then you are in the act of meriggiare, seeking “rest at noon in the shade” to escape the afternoon sun.


There’s nothing like a big meal to fill you up and leave you satisfied. The downside of gorging at a buffet is the sudden urge to sleep as your body begins processing all of the calories you just ate. That need to sleep is the “abbiocco” or the slumber that hits you after a big meal.


This little exclamatory expresses so much. It’s a quick word that not only conveys a lack of knowledge on a subject, but a subtle way of saying,“Why are you even asking me this?” The next time you’re waiting for an airplane and someone asks you why it’s late, the proper response would be, “Boh!”


This one’s a little unkind, and it may be a little challenging to find on a language learning tape, but it simply means a woman that has a mustache.


Sometimes we buy something, and we’re not exactly pleased with it. But when we buy something and find that overall, the quality is lacking, then we have what is called “ciofeca.” Often, it’s used to describe a drink that’s rather gross.


There’s a time and a place for hard work, and often we like to be recognized for the hard work we do. However, on occasion we think as though maybe a job should have been easier to do. We feel that it’s better off to act as though it was a breeze even if we struggled with it.

This is what sprezzatura describes. Coined by sixteenth-century writer Baldassare Castiglione, it is a somewhat tricky word to translate into English. “Spezzatura” highlights the act of pretending something was careless when in fact it was quite challenging to undertake. It also is a sort of character or way of life where someone shows restraint in order to demonstrate civility.


The word comes from “pantofole” and means house slippers. While on the surface, it seems that “couch potato” is a close equivalent, that word does not adequately capture the essence of “pantofolaio.” This funny word describes someone who’s a homebody, but to the point of avoiding any extra work that would upset their relaxed lifestyle found by living at home.


What’s better than a light cocktail before a meal? How about one that comes with snacks? An apericena is the combination of a pre-meal beverage and small nibbles to prepare you for the main course. Many Italian traditions settle around food and meals. However, as recent times are changing, younger adults are moving away from the apericena and settling for cheap buffet style dinners to prepare their stomachs for a night out.


“Qualunquismo” focuses on a specific attitude towards politics as its creation came about after World War II from a political movement, Fronte dell’Uomo Qualanque. The movement wanted to move away from the left and right ideologies at the time. Nowadays it simply means someone who doesn’t care about what’s going on, but not in a happy-go-lucky kind of way. Instead, “Qualunquismo” communicates distrust and skepticism of traditional systems.


Who doesn’t love cats? They’re independent, fluffy, and they take care of mice. In English, we call an older woman who has a lot of feline friends an “old cat lady,” but in Italian, there’s a more pleasant term, “Gattara.” And she need not own the cats; rather, she can care for the neighborhood felines with regular feedings and perhaps the occasional odd conversation.


No more mustaches or cat ladies with this one, a “gibigianna” refers to a captivating woman in the figurative sense. The name comes from the noun that describes the light that playfully reflects of the surface of the water. Imagine the surface of lake reflecting the sun beneath passing clouds, a pleasant image.


This word has multiple meanings that vary depending upon their use in the sentence. From “probably” to “maybe,” the word doesn’t seem to have a lot of energy behind it until you use it as an exclamation. Magari then translates into a way of illustrating a powerful desire for something, as if you were almost screaming for it yourself.


Coming from the phrase “attaches your buttons” this word describes someone who is a little to close to you. Think to those awkward moments when you made eye contact with someone on your way to a meeting while walking downtown. The sudden recognition as your eyes catches sight of the clipboard or pamphlet in the person’s hand as they rush a little too quickly and a little too eager to talk to you.

Che figata!

Do you love figs? Do you wish you could use them in an expression? Well, with Italian, you can. “Che figat” means “what a fig!” But really, it’s just used to describe something that’s pretty cool.

Learn Italian

These are only some of the unique phrases that provide insight into the Italian language. But to fully understand and appreciate the Italian culture, you have to study the language. While these words aren’t usually covered in a typical foreign language course, they do add a unique perspective that helps stir enthusiasm and inspire people to keep learning more about the language.