Culture /

Lost in Translation

“Today I really have to take this craving away”

The language you speak determines the way you think and the way you think defines who you are and your cultural habits. Habits define a population, and we Italians certainly know how to distinguish ourselves. That Italian is a fascinating language… well this is a story as old as the world, yet it never ceases to amaze. Its charm radiates even meters and meters away, and creates indissoluble bonds. When we are away from home, perhaps in a foreign country, as soon as we hear a fellow countryman speaking – and by speaking we mean “shouting” – we can’t help but sharpen our ears and hope that what we are hearing is our beloved language which will in a matter of seconds make us feel at home, connect us and give us a sense of belonging. 

Words are important and we Italians love to use them as much as we love (just to complicate things) phrases with double meaning to describe meticulously, what we see, what we do and most importantly how we feel. As you might already know we italians are not people of few words, according to the italian dictionary the Grande Dizionario Italiano there are over 260,000 words in the Italian language. Don’t worry , to speak it fluently you don’t have to learn them all, but a few of these very italian untranslatable words and sayings might come in handy when trying to express your feelings. In case of emergency your hands can come to the rescue.


Ti Voglio Bene 

“I want you good”

Is that something you would say to your friend or mother? It might sound crazy but what this phrase really means is “I care for you” and so much more.

After years and years of appreciation of the Anglo-Saxon culture we still cannot understand how two strong and at the same time different emotions such as “Ti Voglio Bene” and “Ti Amo” can be expressed in a simple “I love you”.

We can amare “love” anyone, from friends to husbands, BUT Ti amo is strictly reserved for the partner we choose to share a romantic relationship with and even then, trust us when we say it’s not said so lightly or quickly. 

While,“Ti voglio bene”  which isn’t any less of a love, is for everyone else, and when we say everyone we mean a selected group of people we “love” in an unpretentious, unconditional way. 

We can all agree that love might be a tricky, multi faceted feeling which can’t simply be described in one word. We deeply love our mothers, our children, our friends and our partners. We Italians like to be passionate and give the right weight to the right things and love is definitely a feeling that we value above all… it deserves more than a single phrase, don’t you think? 



Have you ever been to the Amalfi coast and watched the crystal clear sea crash on the rocky shores? Or seen the Colosseum at night up close…when the view is all yours? Have you stood on Ponte Delle Grazie while the sunset lights up Ponte Vecchio.

There is only one word to describe it all mozzafiato, breathtaking, emotionally strong enough to take your breath away, literally meaning strong enough to mozza (cut or chop off) and fiato (breath). It may sound like the English translation of “breathtaking”, yet by definition it is something much stronger. Mozzafiato includes a more willful and decisive note. It is so strong that it arouses amazement, admiration, impression, each of which startles violently.



“Ah there’s nothing else to add, he’s just a rocambolesco type”. I imagine a foreigner who knows Italian witnessing a similar dialogue and instinctively widening his eyes at hearing this word. Rocambolesco is a term that has a history of its own and that allows us, once in a while, to be concise in order to express a concept that would require whole sentences in any other language. The term Rocambolesco derives from Rocambole, a noteworthy character in the appendix novels of P.A. Ponson du Terrail. An imaginary character, a thief and at the same time a gentleman. A man dressed as a gentleman, but with a wild daring soul, constantly looking for new adventures.



According to the most well-known Italian dictionaries, abbiocco is a term with mainly regional diffusion which spread from central Italy into common Italian. The term probably derives from biocca (hen). Originally abbioccarsi, to “curl up” like the hen that hatches its eggs, it soon took on the meaning of “dozing off”. Today with abbiocco we mean a state of sudden sleepiness, typical of the moments following a large meal. Dozing off after a meal is a very common experience, especially after a Sunday lunch or any social occasion in which you not only indulge in too much food but also have one to many glasses of wine. You may think it’s the same as a “food coma” but the reality is that the abbiocco can hit at any point of the day, when you least expect it, and force you to take a pisolino (nap) or require a cure in the form of a couple espressos. 

Alzare il gomito

Speaking of drinking one or two too many glasses of wine…Alzare il gomito is referred to those who drink maybe one sip too many. This phrase refers to the gesture of bringing the glass to the mouth one time too many. So if anyone tells you after a night of partying “Eh hai alzato un po troppo il gomito ieri sera” it means your hangover is definitely starting to show and next time you might want to tone it down. 



Oggi devo proprio togliermi questo sfizio

“Today I really have to take this craving away”

 Uno sfizio is something that you can only take away or off. Longing to have, do or eat something just for the pleasure of doing it, without any logical or well-founded reasons. Yet magically when you have a sfizio (craving) for something, there is nothing else you want more or that will make you happier.


Meglio soli che male accompagnati

Better alone than in bad company.

With a rather intuitive meaning when pronounced, it is certainly not so immediate in other languages. Better alone than in bad company is an Italian proverb with a fairly obvious meaning: although some may find it unpleasant to be alone or more generally be lonely, it is always preferable to unpleasant company. This proverb, like all, contains in itself a morality and life lesson: It is not necessary to be alone to live well, but it rather invites you to carefully select the people with whom to spend your time and to devote attention and love. Therefore, if you were to find yourself in an unpleasant situation, remember “meglio soli che male accompagnati”


Dormire Sugli Allori

Don’t exaggerate, don’t get too comfortable, you never know how long an idyllic life situation could last. “Sleeping on laurels” is just as intuitive. It is a nice invitation not to recline excessively when you feel good and comfortable, as bad luck always awaits around the corner, but at the same time a reminder that invites us to never stop working hard for the goals and dreams we strongly believe in.