A Few Choice Italian Words

In which I reflect on a recent viaggio with my parole preferite

I spent last weekend in Florence with my sister, who is studying there, and my dad, who took a transatlantic getaway. A smaller city than I remembered, but hey, I’ve done some growing and traveling since my last visit. Over those 8½ years (a happy accidental film reference??), I’ve become just about fluent in the language and fallen in love with the culture.

My own family hail from the south, Calabria and Puglia, which have their own linguistic and dialectical idiosyncrasies; but until I get there I’m content to immerse myself in the northern vocabulary and manner of speaking.

What I should have been expecting was to come away with new and exciting bytes of that vocabulary—that’s what happens when the world becomes your classroom, baby!

With that said, here follows a list of some of my favorite Italian words, whether for their sound, their meaning, the memories attached to them, or a combination:

abbigliamento: n. clothing

aggiungere: v. to gather, to accumulate

Biancaneve: n. Snow White (of Seven Dwarfs fame)

briganti: n. pl. thieves

carabinieri: n. pl. the cops, yo (fun fact: I originally came upon this word in Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord, translated from—what?—German! #FullCircle)

Cenerentola: n. Cinderella (are you sensing a pattern?)

cipolla: n. onion (as in “looking through a glass…”)

degno/a: adj. worthy (like “to deign” to do something, to think that something is worthy of your attention)

doppia vu: n. the letter W (strange how such a wonderful-sounding phrase should be wasted on a letter which is basically nonexistent in Italian)

frattempo: adv. meanwhile (literally fra + tempo, “between time”)

frigorifero: n. refrigerator (so much better, right?)

innamorato/a: adj. in love (as in “sono innamorata della lingua italiana”)

lontano/a: adj. faraway

meraviglioso/a: adj. wonderful (pro tip: use this word in front of a native and they’ll ask if you speak the language fluently; real self-esteem booster)

orecchini: n. pl. earrings (sing. orecchino)

pellegrinaggio: n. pilgrimage (cooler than its relative, pellegrino, which is “pilgrim”)

pesca: n. peach (the fruit; pesco is the peach tree)

poltrona: n. armchair (aaaahhhh)

pomodoro: n. tomato (from pomo d’oro, literally “apple of gold”)

rimpiangere: v. to experience nostalgia (piangere is “to cry,” so this is literally “to cry again”)

Ringraziamento: n. Thanksgiving (mostly useful for Italian-Americans)

schiavo: n. slave (only because the phrase sono suo schiavo, or “I am your slave,” evolved into the greeting—ciao—that we know and love today)

sciarpa: n. scarf (not to be confused with scarpa, which is “shoe”)

sfortunato/a: adj. unlucky (but it sounds more romantic than that)

speranza: n. hope

statunitense: adj. of or pertaining to the United States (a really interesting one because we have no English equivalent—we’ve only got “American,” which technically pertains to two whole continents)

tedesco/a: adj. German (nothing whatsoever to do with the country name, “Germania,” and it just sounds so cool, which is good because I say it a lot in my current location)

So this is your second-rate Elizabeth Gilbert reminding you that it’s never too late to appreciate Italy or its language. Learn to roll your r and you’re halfway there.

Forse ci vediamo

Image: my own, taken from the Palazzo Vecchio overlooking a side street

Published by Cecilia Gigliotti

Cecilia Gigliotti (she/her) lives in Berlin with a beloved ukulele named Uke Skywalker. She co-hosts and produces the music commentary podcast POD SOUNDS. Her free time goes toward dancing, reading books new and old, drawing cartoons, taking city walks, and devoting too much thought to the foibles of her heroes. Connect with her on Instagram (@c_m_giglio, @ceciliagphotography, @pod_sounds_podcast) and see what else she's up to (linktr.ee/ceciliagigliotti).

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