Untranslatable Words 3: Italian

Untranslatable Words 3: Italian


So far in this series we’ve presented you with an international mix [RR#1: 85] and, more recently, a collection of ten untranslatable German words [RR#2: 78]. This time we turn our attention to Italy. Here are ten Italian words or phrases that have no English equivalent.

Abbiocco refers to the specific drowsiness that takes hold of you after an Italian lunch. The word comes from the position of a hen hatching its eggs. It’s an inviting drowsiness that you just surrender to.

It’s not even a word. It’s just a sound. Boh! means “Who knows?” or “I don’t know,” but it also conveys the hidden messages of “I don’t really care that I don’t know”, and “It’s not that important to me.”

culaccino is the word used to reference a watermark on a table. Not just any watermark. It’s the round mark (the word culo means "bum") left behind when an ice-filled, sweating, wet glass is placed on a wooden table.

Dolce far niente
Dolce far niente … (“Sweet doing nothing …”) It’s a feeling that combines leisure, idleness and laziness all at once. The expression is commonly used in combination with a sigh or a stretching of the limbs.

Fare la scarpetta
Literally, it means “to make the little shoe”, but it refers to the act of using a piece of bread to mop up the sauce or gravy left on the plate after eating pasta or a main course.

Italy’s version of “crazy cat lady” means an older woman who wanders the streets looking for stray cats to take in, often spending all of her energy and money on taking care of them.

This is a colloquial term for Italian men who live at home with their mothers even after they’ve grown up and started working. It is often used in a humorous or mocking way.

menefreghista, which comes from the expression Non me ne frega (“I don’t care”), is a person who shows indifference towards the thing being discussed. It is always used with a derogatory tone.

Literally means “someone wearing slippers” similar to the English “couch potato”. The pantofolaio is also someone who prefers the quiet of the home, and would rather have friends over than go out.

It’s an intense longing but it shows that the one longing is actually suffering from the intensity of their longing. It implies that the person is absolutely miserable as a result of their yearning.

Story Idea: Melanie Giuffré




1. Her: “You are such a mammoni.” Him: “Boh!
2. Culaccino
3. Dolce Far Niente by John William Godward, 1897
4. Fare la scarpetta

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