Five favorite Italian words

I was tagged by Melanie at the Italofile blog to write a post about five of my favorite Italian words, which I thought would be a lot of fun. So here they are, plus the reasons I picked them: 

Bologna Italy Bell Tower

Photo by Sanjay Jhawar



Pronounced: VEE|ah

Via means “street” and several other things, but the “via” I love always has an exclamation mark at the end, and means “let’s go!” or “we’re off!”. It’s simple and short yet signifies the beginning of an adventure. One of my closest friends is Italian, and whenever we head off together somewhere, whether it be out for aperitivi or off for a weekend at the Ice Hotel in Sweden, we start with “via!”.


Pronounced: n~|OH|kee

Apart from the fact that gnocchi are yummy and a gnocchi board is one of the best Italian souvenirs, ever, the successful pronunciation of the “gn” sound in gnocchi represents an accomplishment with the Italian language. When I taught Italian, the correct pronunciation of this word accompanied students’ happy faces, which is the reason I picked it. (Runners up in the same category: correctly pronouncing the rolling ‘r’ as in “arrivederci”, the double vs single ‘p’ as in capello and cappello).



Pronounced: kum|pun|eel|EEZ|moh

When I first moved to Italy, I naively thought that everyone in Italy must be cultured, sophisticated, and international – for the simple fact that they lived in Italy. (Okay, I was 17.) But many Italians don’t see themselves as from Italy, rather they are from the town their family is from, and have an enormous pride and belonging to that place first and foremost — even if they moved away when they were 1 year old. This is an important concept in Italy, and I understood it much better when I learned the word “campanilismo”, which is from the word “campanile”, meaning bell tower. So it sort of means loyal to your original bell tower.


Pronounced: SHOH|per|oh

The only Polish word I remember from my 10 day trip to Poland in 1994 is the word “brak”, or “empty”, which I figured out after about the 5th time I saw it written on a sign at a gas station. I was introduced to “scioperi”, or strikes, in much the same way in Italy, and now when planning a trip to Italy for a client, I always check the dates of Italian strikes.


Pronounced: oo|minga|cup|EE

This is actually Milanese dialect more or less meaning “I don’t understand”, and it’s the only word of Milanese dialect (or any Italian dialect) that I know. Dialect is more commonly spoken in older generations, and most of my Milanese friends don’t know much of it – but they all know this word. It translates into Italian as “non ho mica capito” which I need to point out is not quite the same as “I don’t understand” (“non ho capito”). The “mica” adds a bit of attitude, so the speaker is often frustrated or annoyed while saying it, with accompanying hand gestures. But I love that this word is dialect, and it’s amusing to see the look on people’s faces when they hear a foreigner using it. I’ve never seen it written, so I wrote it above the way I think it would be written.

And I’m tagging Roberta K of Thinking Allowed and Sergio (who I don’t think has a blog – leave your words in the comments please) for their five favorites!

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