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

83 CommentsThursday • May 10, 2007 • by michelle


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.

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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 WordsYou 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.

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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?