Uniquely Italian: Five Everyday Words and Phrases That English Can’t Quite Capture
Five Everyday Words and Phrases That English Can't Quite Capture

Uniquely Italian: Five Everyday Words and Phrases That English Can’t Quite Capture

  1. abbiocco – the tired feeling that immediately follows eating a large meal

Of course the Italian language has a word that captures this particular feeling, given that it is experienced a lot in Italy!


Ho mangiato tanto al cenone per il mio compleanno, e ora vorrei andare a letto perché ho l’abbiocco.

I ate so much at my birthday dinner, and now I would just like to go to bed because I have l’abbiocco.


  1. magari – if only; what if; I wish; there’s a chance; maybe

This word has several meanings, depending on the context in which it is used. It is a somewhat multi-purpose word, and for that reason alone it stands out from English as not completely translatable in one literal way. The word can convey a sentiment that is both hopeful and nostalgic, wishful and wistful. Here are a few examples of its use:


Magari ci fosse più tempo di stare insieme!

If only there were more time to stay together!


Vuoi venire con me per tre settimane in Sicilia?


Do you want to come with me to Sicily for three weeks?

I wish!


Non sono libero domani ma magari ci possiamo vedere venerdì?

I’m not free tomorrow but maybe we can see each other on Friday?


  1. In bocca al lupo – in the mouth of the wolf (Good luck!)

This is an idiom in Italian that is very similar to the English phrase “Break a leg”. It is said that wishing someone good luck literally in Italian (buona fortuna) is actually unlucky. The phrase apparently originates from hunters’ superstitious belief in wishing dangerous situations on each other could prevent evil from occurring in real life. Another explanation arises from the understanding of the wolf as a violent and feared adversary that hunters needed to confront head on in order to conquer their fear.

Crepi il lupo – may the wolf die

When someone in bocca al lupo, the response is not simply “thank you” (grazie) but crepi il lupo, which means “may the wolf die” (often shortened to crepi).  This is to preserve the good luck.


  1. tiramisu – literally “pick me up”

The word breaks down to tira from tirare (“to pull” ) + mi (the direct object pronoun for “me”) + su (“up”). It is, of course, the name of the famous Italian dessert, made with coffee, lady-fingers, mascarpone cheese, and chocolate.


  1. Ci stasounds good; that fits/that works

This is a colloquial phrase that can have several meanings, but mainly it indicates the affirmation of an idea or suggestion. If someone proposes to go out to pizza before seeing a movie, you might say ci sta to show that you like this plan. It is also used to signal that something fits, either physically or metaphorically. Ci può stare means “that makes sense”.


For more uniquely Italian words, see the Huffington Post’s 11 Beautiful Italian Words And Phrases That Just Don’t Translate.


City Speakeasy Italian Teacher Alison S

City Speakeasy Italian Teacher Alison S

This article was written by City Speakeasy’s amazing Italian teacher Alison!  Check our City Speakeasy’s upcoming Italian Classes in NYC that you can take with Alison!