Top 5 Italian Words You Really Don’t Want to Mispronounce

Italian flag on Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia

Italian flag on Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia

This is a topic often batted around among those of us trying to get used to Italy–probably even more so than complaints about Italian bureaucracy. And that’s saying something.

Whether you’re coming to Italy for your first or twenty-first time, ready to meet your future in-laws, trying to impress your new Italian amore, or just in the mood to laugh *with* us as we maneuver our way through the beautiful Italian language, I have compiled for you:

The Top 5 Italian Words
You Really Don’t Want to Mispronounce

1. Fico: noun, fig (or fig tree). Succulent and sweet, we all love figs, right? Yeah, well, just be sure you keep this one in the masculine form (ending in “o”) because once you change it to fica or figa, you’ve gone and referenced (in quite a vulgar way) a part of the female anatomy that rhymes with bagina. Incidentally, if you want to say a guy is attractive or if something is generally cool, you can say “figo.” That’s not obscene but the way I figure, why mess with it?

2. Penne: noun, can mean penne, as in the pasta, or pens (singular is penna). Some background: the Italian language has this funny thing whereby you must actually pronounce every letter that appears in a word. And so this word is “pen-ne.” Our ears may not hear the difference between pronouncing the double consonant and not, but Italian ears sure do — especially in this word, which if pronounced pene means penis (or, if you prefer, a part of the male anatomy that rhymes with schmenis). Subtle difference in pronunciation and yet huge difference in meaning.

3. Pisolino: noun, nap. Speaking of man parts, be careful to pronounce this one exactly as written with that long “o” in the middle. If you get lazy, you might be saying pisellino,” which although literally means “small pea” and is what Popeye’s Swee’Pea is called in Italian, is aslo slang for a tiny pene. So, to sum up, take a nap, not a small schmenis.

4. Scappare: verb, to escape. Another example where you must be careful to pronounce the middle vowel clearly because if you say devo scopare,” you’re telling someone that you have to go sweep (e.g., the floor). Not so bad, you say? Well, the other meaning for scopare is a slang, quite vulgar term for, um, making love, and may not be something you’d like to share with, say, your mother-in-law.

5. Scoraggiare: verb, to discourage. Mispronounce this one so that you say scoreggiare and you’re referring to passing gas in a not so nice way (assuming there is a nice way). Many an English as a Foreign/Second Language teacher has probably done this one when trying to tell students not to be discouraged. Eh. This is how we show students it’s OK to make mistakes while learning a language. Right? Right?

Believe you me, there are so many more, but aside from all the ancient ruins, Renaissance artwork, processions and festivals, and olive, lemon, and orange groves, the challenge of the Italian language is just a small part of what makes life in Italy fun and exciting.

Kinda makes you want to come to Italy and learn to speak Italian, doesn’t it?

What are some of your embarrassing foreign language mistakes?

83 Beans of Wisdom to “Top 5 Italian Words You Really Don’t Want to Mispronounce”
  1. Anonymous

    When describing a hot, humid day in German, be extra careful not to forget to pronounce the Umlaut – those 2 dots obove the “U”, otherwise…..

    schwΓΌl – muggy
    schwul – gay/homosexual

    This is the only one that comes to mind – obviously, the German language lacks much of the fun and humor that lies within the Italian language. So ist das Leben….


  2. Rebecca

    Good Lord…I will never again be able to eat Penne with a pure mind!!!!

  3. Cherrye

    Been there done MOST of that…man oh man…

  4. Vanessa

    Hee hee hee… I love this stuff… Remember my Spanish examples? Well another funny one is cojines/cojones… the former meaning cushions and the latter meaning, well, boll**ks (eek). And, yes, I know someome who whilst visiting her boss’s house, upon entering the living room commented on his lovely “cojones”!
    Still, first ever pollo/polla error was by far the most embarrassing for me πŸ˜‰

  5. Giulia

    Ha Ha, we use “scoreggia” as the nicer way to say passing gas.

  6. Enza

    I howled reading your blog today!! It becomes even more complicated when u speak a dialect!! Thanks for making me smile!

  7. heather

    I love stuff like this! It DOES make me want to come to Italy and learn (more) Italian!

  8. J.Doe

    I made all of those mistakes when I lived there so learned the hard way. Great post though. Very helpful for people moving to Italy, already living there or just wanting to speak Italian. I wish I read it 6 years ago.

  9. Milva

    I’ve got a good one for you…I was invited to lunch one day at the home of my sister-in-law’s parents. Anna had made a delicious spread of roasted meats and I wanted to compliment her on the meal. “Quanto mi piace questo cane!” You can imagine the horror on my face when she explained that we weren’t eating the dog…

  10. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    LOL. no comment.

  11. Anonymous

    one of the guys at the language school used to practice his italian with the secretary. One day he wanted a new white board eraser and he asked her for una pugna instead of spugna. Not sure if i got the spelling right, but basically for a blow job instead of a wipe cloth!!!! vanessa

  12. Sara

    Actually, it makes me want to come to Italy, sit in the sun, and eat figs. πŸ™‚ (And I do really mean figs. Mmmm. I think I love them even better than strawberries.)

  13. Annika

    Something tells me that all these belong in the category “mistakes you only make once” ;D

  14. cheeky

    Yes I want to come to Italy again. I feel I know Italy in a much better way now, thanks to you and a few other expat bloggers in Italia.
    I thoroughly enjoyed these and I don’t think I will ever think of Popeye the same, thanks! πŸ™‚

  15. goodthomas

    The good thing about those “verbal mispronounciations not to make in Italy” is that if made, they would be made in Italy. And that would not be a bad thing.

    This list made me laugh, made me smile. Thank you for the information, the thoughts, the smile.

  16. Kristen

    Oh – this is great.
    I was in Spanish class in high school and mispronounced a word like this. I still remember my teachers face!

  17. tongue in cheek

    Love this!! What a clever idea to tell us. Bad words with pasta?! Penne. Yikes!

  18. Monkling

    Growing up in Brooklyn, I don’t even pronounce most English words right. Now I’m terrified to use the little Italian I know!

  19. somepinkflowers

    very, very good!

    one year ago today i was making my way around Rome giving the language my best shot.

    everyone was so patient with me
    and i had a most perfect time there in Italy for almost 6 weeks.

    i wonder now what i must have said!

  20. anna

    Forgive me for nitpicking, but isn’t it “pesolino”?

    I never knew scopare meant to do the deed. Thanks for the lesson.

  21. scribbit

    That’s funny–and very creative. Love the list and good luck with the contest!

  22. sognatrice

    Wunschdenker, that’s a tricky one! In Italian, the slang for a gay/homosexual man is “finocchio,” and it’s said exactly the same way as you’d say fennel. All about the context!

    Rebecca, hey, as long as you’re eating “penne” you’ve got no worries.

    Cherrye, part of the initiation I’m afraid πŸ˜‰

    Vanessa, so Spanish is fun too!

    Giulia, yes, scoreggia isn’t all that bad so long as that’s what you wanted to use.

    Enza, excellent point about the dialect. I can’t remember what I said just the other day, but by making it feminine, I turned it into a word in a dialect that meant something completely different–although not vulgar at least, and it was only with P. See how well I’ve learned? Now I can’t even remember what it was!

    Heather, glad you enjoyed it; come on over!

    JDoe, I think most of us learn these the hard way even with the knowledge–it’s like your brain *wants* to say the naughty word even when you know better πŸ˜‰

    Milva, I’m very happy you weren’t eating the dog. I had to cover Luna’s ears for that one πŸ˜‰

    NYC, “no comment” is probably the best way to go on this subject πŸ˜‰

    Vanessa, oh my. I have never heard that for that particular deed (pompino being the one I hear most)…learn something new everyday!

    Sara, yes, figs. Plural. That’s actually how I avoid saying “fico” in fact–I always use the plural “fichi” πŸ˜‰ Ah, I should have mentioned in the post that you can also say “fico” for something that is cool. But again, I wouldn’t πŸ˜‰

    Annika, yes one would think….

    Cheeky, oh, Swee’Pea is just as innocent as ever πŸ™‚

    Goodthomas, glad you enjoyed them, and that they made you smile πŸ™‚

    Kristen, funny how those memories stick out, eh?

    TIC, thanks! Like I wrote, many of us have talked about this for a while, but it’s useful to have it gathered up, I think. Maybe it’ll save face for someone else someday πŸ˜‰

    Monkling, hah! You don’t have to be afraid though–Italians love when you try to speak Italian. Sure some will laugh at you too, but it’s all in good fun and part of the learning process.

    Somepinkflowers, it’s better *not* to wonder what you said…it can’t go anywhere good at this point πŸ˜‰

    Anna, as far as I know, there’s no “pesolino” in Italian. “Pisolino” is pronounced “pee-so-LEE-no” (you can click on the “pisolino” in red in the post and go to an online Italian-English dictionary); and I’m glad I’ve enlightened you on, um, sweeping.

    Scribbit, thanks, and good luck to you as well πŸ™‚

  23. Elizabeth

    Once at a business meeting I said that we certainly didn’t want to “discourage” a certain employee…Well I got lots of surprised looks at that one when I exchange one vowel for another..

  24. Gil

    Things you don’t learn taking Italian classes at Adult Ed. with a very dignified Italian lady from Veneto!! If the classes resume tis year I’ll have some questions for her.

  25. Anonymous

    haha, this is great. my best story is when my best friend came to visit me in rome, and mispronounced cacio e pepe when ordering in a restaurant. yes, she actually ordered a plate of “cazzo e pepe”! oh man, the waiter just started laughing and told me i should teach my friend a little italian lesson.

  26. Karla

    Since you are doing things in fives…I’ve tagged you for a top five places to eat locally meme. Don’t hate me.

    In Norwegian, the words for “shopping bag” and “hot dog” are very, very similar. Just a difference of the middle vowel. (Polser vs PØLSER) I can never say it right. Probably everyday I ask for a hot dog to put my groceries in. Or a grocery bag with ketchup. Luckily they understand that Iprobably don’t want what I am asking for and give me the logical thing.

  27. Enza

    ok now my Italian is very rusty but can’t u also say fico when something is screwed up. I thought i remember my mother using fico in a very derrogatory manner, sort of like saying that’s messed up or BS….maybe I have my words mixed up.

  28. Enza

    OH MY!! Scratch what i said earlier. I asked my mom and she corrected me….and it’s not nice at all!!

  29. stefanie

    You definitely need to read Eat Pray Love. I think you’d really relate to and enjoy all the parts about her struggles with learning Italian. (Seriously, why haven’t you picked that book up yet??) πŸ˜‰

  30. Valerie

    I recently learned that you don’t want to confuse la fava with le fave in Toscana. So many subleties, so many opportunities to provide laughs to our listeners.
    Thanks for the Top 5 heads-up! I squeaked in under the wire.

  31. Shelley - At Home in Rome

    Great idea for the Top 5. I think I’ve mispronounced nearly every one of them at some time or another. I always have to make a riduculous exaggeration of the double consonants b/c I still have trouble distinguishing them, and I’ve pretty much given up on scoraggiare I’ve messed it up so many times.

  32. Angela

    Great list! About the only Italian I know is what my grandmother yells but this list gave me a laugh because I can imagine some tourist in Rome offending half the city.

  33. sognatrice

    Elizabeth, well aside from discouraging, you probably wouldn’t want to do the other thing to the employee either….

    Gil, hmmm…don’t use my name though, OK?

    Anonymous, che figuraccia! All in good fun though πŸ™‚

    Karla, I don’t hate you but it will be a toughie for me; we really don’t eat out much. But I shall do my best. And thank goodness they don’t give you hot dogs to take home your shopping. Although please post photos if it ever happens.

    Enza, you had me thinking, and now I’m curious as to the real word/context….

    Stefanie, it’s really a fear of the Italian postal service that keeps me away–books in particular seem to have a tough time getting to me. Very, very sad.

    Valerie, never heard that one before, but it is duly noted in case I find myself in Toscana πŸ˜‰

    Shelley, same here with the double consonants. Better safe than sorry!

    Angela, well now you know a little more Italian–at least what *not* to use πŸ˜‰

  34. Erin

    Doesn’t sound like a very easy language to master! I’d still like to learn it one day, though.

  35. Anonymous

    LOVE this post!!! I never really got the diff between penne and pene, so I NEVER ordered it! (But I got it now, thanks!)

    -reader in California

    p.s. Eat, Pray, Love? you’re not missing out! (sorry stefanie) I’m a bigger fan of Tales of a Female Nomad

  36. Zahra

    Haha Penne is going to be interesting to order from now on. I don’t think I’ll be able to stop giggling!

  37. JennDZ

    Wow, who knew that there were so many things to mispronounce! eek!
    I know I will do something really bad at some point!

  38. Joe Raasch

    This is great! Not something I’d find in a guidebook.

  39. LearningNerd

    Haha, nice post! Made me laugh. πŸ™‚ I’d love to learn to speak a little Italian, so I’m bookmarking this!

  40. Mandy

    I vote for Eat Pray Love over Tales of a Female Nomad, but I think different people will like them for different reasons – the first is more spiritual, and I found the second to be (for my taste) too full of “our eyes met over the rice paddy as we shared a moment of cross-cultural understanding” stuff.

    I love the clock as I’ve a friend in Italy right now!

  41. Madelyne

    When I was working for my parents a few years back they had a older Italian lady who used to encourage me to speak to her in Italian. I never heard her laugh so much when I told her I was going to quickly sweep( scopare presto). She told me the double meaning so now I’m careful.

  42. sognatrice

    Erin, Italian is a beautiful language, and I highly recommend learning it–the basics really aren’t very difficult for English speakers at all, in my opinion…it’s once you get into all the verb conjugations that things get a little tougher.

    Anon in CA, thanks for another book recommendation; I’ve checked that out on Amazon, and I think I’d enjoy that as well…time to get going on my Wish List!

    Zahra, yes, sometimes ignorance is bliss when ordering pasta πŸ˜‰

    Jenn, but now you are armed with knowledge! Anyway, Italians are very forgiving when it comes to butchering their language (at least they have been with me).

    Joe, glad you enjoyed it πŸ™‚

    Learningnerd, you should definitely learn some Italian! Like I said, I don’t think the basics are very hard, and now you even have a list of what *not* to say.

    Mandy, thanks for your input on the two books; I have a feeling I’d like both of them for different reasons. Glad the clock can be of use!

    Madelyne, too funny! I always use “pulire (il pavimento)” instead of “scopare” just to be on the safe side πŸ˜‰

  43. Susan

    Timely advice and a great submission for the ProBlogger Group Writing Project. I think this is what I like best about projects like this, discovering all the blogs you might not ever visit otherwise. If you are interested here is a link to my submission, Top 5 Sins. It isn’t what you think πŸ™‚ but take a look you might like it.

    While neither of us won I think it is definitely a great way to increase visibility and plan to participate in the future. Hope you enjoyed it as well and I can’t wait for next time.

  44. heartinsanfrancisco

    Too funny! But I think that even worse is the (sadly) typical American who goes to other countries and expects everyone to speak English.

    I have always found that people are delighted and eager to help when you make an attempt, no matter how badly you mangle their language.

    Besides, there is no language more beautiful than Italian. (The people, too.) Sono Italiana in il mi cuore. (See? Mangled.)

  45. sognatrice

    Susan, funny that I just did something about the Seven Deadly Sins the other day…must be something in the air πŸ˜‰ Thanks for stopping by!

    Hearts, yes, it is awfully American to expect everyone to speak English, although now the world seems to be trying to comply anyway. Still it’s wonderful to be learning Italian, and I hope to move onto another European language once I feel secure in this one.

    Anyway, your Italian? I wouldn’t call it mangled at all! You got your point across, and that’s what’s important. Everyone learning/trying a new language should remember that communication is the ultimate goal, and if you’ve done that, you’ve succeeded. If you manage not to offend anyone, all the better πŸ˜‰

  46. The Freelance Cynic

    God the english language is so boring isn’t it! You sure they don’t make these things up to catch out foriegners?

  47. rjlight

    So funny! I just moved back from Spain – -lived there for almost 7 years…so I know about the mistakes you can make — you never want to confuse “pene” in spanish either with “peine” which is comb — don’t want to comb your hair with that! I was always worried I would be telling people that!

  48. sognatrice

    Freelance Cynic, I like the conspiracy theory. I’m with you.

    Rjlight, glad you can relate–sort of πŸ˜‰ Thanks for stopping by!

  49. Harry L

    I’m going to try #2 out on the Italian girl in my local cafe today and see how she reacts!

  50. sognatrice

    Harry, um, just don’t tell her I sent you, OK? Let us know how it turns out though!

  51. Emsk

    Good Lord, you could really get ‘scorragiare’ and the other one in a muddle! Be careful about these ones – calzone (a kind of pizza that you fold in half) and cazzone (a part of the male body that tends to be on the larger size). I’ve already seen a post on a BBC site about a couple of girls who asked their waiter in Bologna ‘vorrei un bel cazzone’.

    Oh, and false friends! Last time I was in Bari I told my friend Bartolo’s 75 year-old mother ‘sono molte eccitata di tornare in Italia’ and she gave a knowing laugh. It took me years to discover that ‘eccitata’ does mean excited, but of the love-making variety. Luckily she’s a broad-mined Catholic lady (I use tu not Lei with her) and she just laughed.

    In Japanese you need to be careful with the words ‘kutsu’ (shoes) and ‘ketsu’ (ass – and I don’t mean no baby donkey!). I asked the ladies at yoga if they liked my new ass recently and they shrieked with laughter.

  52. sognatrice

    Emsk, you offer *excellent* advice. I’ll probably just refrain from ordering calzone just to be on the safe side πŸ˜‰

    Your own blunders are hilarious–it’s good to know the Japanese women just loved your new ass, isn’t it?

  53. Cercando

    I love this thread. Reminds me of when I took my brand-new bride away from her life of luxury in Pasadena, CA, and landed her in a dusty flat in Brindisi for three years. I came home from work one day to find her very upset about this man who kept making obscene phone calls to her (we had one of the few phones in our neighborhood – back in the 1980’s). She could only understand that he wanted to do something to her figs, or so she thought. Not so happy was she when I explained the joke…next time, she answered the phone, “Hello?” instead of the usual “Pronto – chi parla?” and the prankster got so flustered that he hung up and never called again. Another time, I sent her to the dealer to pick up a part for our car, specifically, a windshield washer pump. She called me to tell me to do it myself, because she walked into the dealer and asked for a “pompa di spezzatore” and the parts guys couldn’t stop laughing – then she asked our neighbour and found out why. Ah, the glories of cultural exchange!

    Our next three years (this decade) in Italy went much smoother, but my teenage son kept ordering “pizzaroni” instead of “salumi”, because he knew that he didn’t want pepperoni, and thought he didn’t want salami! Luckily, the pizzaiolo was a gentile, understanding guy…

    Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors Reply:

    so what IS spezzatore?

  54. sognatrice

    *Cercando, hilarious! Love the language memories–and I love that we all have them (whether they’re ours or someone else’s) πŸ˜‰

  55. 02.10.2008

    Hee – I love this list! I have a story to add… in my Italian class in Florence, we were all describing traditional holidays from our countries. I chose Thanksgiving, and at the time not knowing the word for turkey (tacchino), I said that every November Americans sit around the table e mangiamo un uccelone….

    I thought it just meant big bird, but apparently it has a secondary meaning that’s a little more risque… a big pene. My teacher lost it, though the rest of the class just looked blank.

    girlie’s last blog post..Ah, DC. Let’s get some Spanish food!

    Hah! Still, that was awfully genius of you to come up with that word IMHO πŸ˜‰

  56. Lorna

    what annoys me is the reverse ………. having lived here so long I know exactly how to pronounce bruschetta and risotto etc – but it drives me crazy when I watch a food programme in English on tv and hear brushetta and ris-oat-oh instead !!!

    So true Lorna! Thanks for stopping by πŸ™‚

  57. I can’t believe no one’s mentioned this one yet – but the difference between “anno” and “ano” is pretty immense (year vs. ass). For double consonants like this one, I usually go with “annnnnnnnno” just to be extra-safe!

    And I’ve heard that “casalingua” means something bad (while “casalinga” is just housewife), but I don’t know what the former actually means. Do you?

    Jessica, Italy Logue’s last blog post..Italy Photo of the Week: Market Day

    Hah, that’s a good one Jessica! I think I was well warned with the double consonants so I haven’t had too much problems in that area.

    As for “casalingua,” there’s a good description here (about 3/4 down): Il Forno.

    Andrew M Reply:

    I think most English speakers can’t hear the difference between the single and double consonant sound. I got chuckles for months while explaining that I was in Italy for “just one year” until I figured it out.

    michelle Reply:

    Yes, those double consonants are probably one of the strangest things for us to get used to…but one mistake is all it takes to learn the difference pretty quickly!

  58. Ha! Just read that post. Too funny… I’ll try not to screw that one up. πŸ™‚

    Jessica, Italy Logue’s last blog post..Italian News Snippets: 06.01.08

    Definitely a good plan Jessica πŸ˜‰

  59. Very funny situation with mispronounciations in languages that are new to us. Yours highlights exactly the problems that can be caused with them. the same at my end, on e night when I got spirits given to me instead of chickens as the word for both is very similar.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    martin miller-yianni’s last blog post..Another Bulgarian Meal to Remember

    Hah! I hope you enjoyed the drinks at least πŸ˜‰ Thanks for stopping by!

  60. 07.03.2008

    I’ve got my own list to add to yours. I can never mess up without making a sexual innuendo by mistake. It’s a curse.

    Miss Expatria’s last blog post..My Two Cents: The New TSA-Friendly Laptop Bags

    Ooh thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

  61. 03.02.2009

    Loved this post! I have only just discovered your blog. I am sure I have made many of those errors already… I usually qualify my translations to my English speaking guests with “I HOPE I just said…”

    Kay’s last blog post..almost

    Welcome Kay! Lucky for us Italians are usually quite forgiving when we butcher their beautiful language πŸ™‚

  62. 11.08.2009

    When I was learning, for mustache, I used to say “buffi” instead of “baffi”, and I’ve made the ‘fico’ mistake. lol


    That’s a bad one πŸ˜‰

    .-= CatherineΒ΄s last blog ..Canto della Terra =-.

  63. 04.15.2010

    when our then 6 year-old daughter was learning Italian in Rome, she was terrified of screwing up ‘penne.’ Or even worse–“anno’ versus ‘ano.’

    Those are definitely tricky ones!

    .-= Jack´s last blog ..This may launch me over the cuckoo’s nest =-.

  64. 08.03.2010

    Not as embarrassing as your examples, but I have a fun one.
    One of my favorite stories from my travels to Italy comes from the day that we hiked into Il Parco Naturalistico di San Floriano. In the park there is a small stand which sells seasonal fruits and goods such as olive oil, honey, etc. As we entered the park, a woman ran out to the stand, waiving at us. We had planned to hike around the park for an hour or so and hadn’t planned on buying anything while we were there. We stopped by to see what they had and attempted to buy honey, ‘Miele’. I also pointed out a small bottle of oil that I wanted. When ringing us up, she inadvertently did not charge us for the honey. I tried to tell her and in pointing out the receipt, she understood only that I thought that something was missing. She was flustered and hurried out of the booth toward the barn. It was abrupt and a little unsettling. We waited a minute but then set out on our hike with the honey and oil. About 5 minutes down the path we heard her calling to us as she ran to catch up to us carrying two HUGE bags of apples, ‘Mele’. So, needless to say, we thanked her for the apples, tried to pay her for them and carried about 12 lbs. of apples around for an hour and a half. I made a t shirt to commemorate the day. It says Mele, Miele, Mille (‘Many’). It’s a fun memory and now a story that I share almost every time that I wear the shirt.

    Love it Tracie, thanks!

  65. 08.03.2010

    A much needed post Michelle!

    One of my many embarassing slip-ups in Italian was with a group of my husband’s friends, of course, all male. I was explaining to them that the salamis in Italy are so much better than in the U.S. They didn’t understand why. I explained that for one thing, the salamis in the U.S. all have “preservativi”. When they all laughed I knew I had blown it. Preservativi means condoms. What I wanted to say was “conservativi” (preservatives.) Hee hee.

    Classic Jeni; thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  66. Nell

    At the time that I mistakingly used the wrong word I was 3 years old and had just moved bake to Sicily from Canada , so I only knew a few english words which to my innocent understanding at that age would work in both Sicilian and english.
    My Uncle Giovannoi was taking me for a walk when I spotted the icecream store, so I yelled out ascreama, meaning Ice cream, to my uncle he thought I was refering to the part in my hair.So he whipped out his comb and procceded to repart my part. This caused this then 3 yearold to have a tantram and continue to ask for the ascreama.My other uncle Poalino had a Barber shop close by and so my uncle Giovanni took me to him and said this child is very upset about her hairpart do something, to at that point I was wailing.So my uncle Paolino tried combing my hair, a man walked in from the states who was visiting and said what is all this comoition why is the child sobbing, we can’t seen to part her hair the way she wants it, finally he said to me” che voi” and I said through tears” ascreama”, he translated she wants an icecream, gelato not a hair part. OH>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>! Its one of my uncle Giovanni’s favoriate stories to tell about me.

    Haha I can see why! Thanks for sharing, Nell πŸ™‚

  67. Joseph Chiaravalloti

    One that amused my German mother-in-law was Bogenscheissen instead of Bogenschiessen.

    I could never understand the if catfish was katzenfisch, why wasn’t butterfly butterflegel?

    Aren’t languages fun?!

  68. Pat Salerno

    How about “gallera” and “galleria”? A friend of mine told a caller that she would have to call her back since she was in jail (gallera) and had bad reception. She meant to say galleria (tunnel).

    michelle Reply:

    Nice one, Pat! Quite a difference indeed πŸ™‚

  69. Ah, yes, giggles and embarrassment. I was so excited because we were having our garage built. On the top of the roof they put a rooster shaped weather vane. As I searched for the right words to describe the rooster, I realized no one was listening because I had called il tetto la tetta and they could not stop laughing. Then I went on to the door and failed there too. Tears came to eyes.

  70. 01.05.2012

    Dining in Trastevere with friends, some Italian, on my first trip to Italy, I decided to order fried artichokes. Instead of carciofi, however, I ordered cervelli. Every pair of eyes at the table turned to give me a most skeptical gaze, and I realized immediately something was terribly wrong. Got it straightened out…thankfully!

  71. 01.05.2012 extolls virtue of my italian dictionary that signals “false friends” words designed to trip you up by seeming to be so logically the right word.

    but the confusion can be half the fun, no? How about a nice refreshing glass of fish on a hot day. Yes, i have ordered a “succa di pesche” vs pesca. hardly seems right. and of course in the context of your top 5 words don’t forget uccellino. this little bird can be a conversation stopper in the right setting.

  72. 01.05.2012

    I think one of my favorite personal mistakes was saying “che cazzo” instead of “che pazzo”. Woopsie!

  73. Dee

    I have made several errors in my attempts to speak italian in Italy but one of my more glaring boo-boos was the time that I was trying to explain to my Italian relatives that in America we put preservatives in wine while in Italy they do not. I did not know the word for preservative so I took a chance and hoped that it might be similar to the English word. I tentatively stated that there was “preservetivi” in American wine only to realize after everyone started to laugh that what I actually said was that there were condoms in American wine. I later found out that the Italian word for preservative is conservativo.

  74. Tina

    I was visiting a Latin American country and one of our host families had a death in the family. In Latin American countries they bury the dead right away because they don’t embalm. I was trying to explain that we use preservatives in the U.S., and I used the word “preservativo”. (Should have been preservante.) Preservativo means condom, so I basically told everyone that in the U.S. we put condoms on dead people. Ugh!

    michelle Reply:

    Haha that’s a good one, Tina — I mean, looking back on it. I’m sure it was mortifying (no pun intended) at the time πŸ™‚

  75. 01.23.2013

    I used to say the word for priest, but i pronounced it like the word which means BEETLE-of course everyone laughs. But the other one was funnier-I ordered what i thought was peach gelato, but i pronounced peach like the word ‘fish’-pesca-pesche. There are so many of these, and you just hope the people around you are amused by it and get what you are really trying to say. And they do…you have to love the Italian people.

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