12 Italian Slang Words To Pepper Into A Convo If You Wanna Woo A Nonna As Tough As Mine

I’m Italian. I’m one of those obnoxious Italians that has also made it one of the founding components of my personality. Most of the excuses I make for my behaviour are simply ‘because I’m Italian’. When Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande‘s collab extravaganza Rain On Me dropped last year, I was overcome with emotions I’d never felt before. I wince with pain every time someone I know recommends I try that TikTok vodka pasta recipe.

I truly believe that deep down, everyone wants to be just a teensy bit Italian. Before the pandy, Aussies would literally flock by the thousands to Italy during our winter to soak up the sun on their gelato-stained skin.

There’s something so dang magical about the historical cobblestoned, fairy light-lit trattorias, the waft of fresh dough that greets you as you walk into a pasticceria to gobble up a sfogliatelle and the buzz of Vespas sauntering down the street.

I honestly teared up just thinking about it – which is why I flipped my lid when I saw the trailer for Disney and Pixar’s new movie Luca (streaming exclusively on Disney+ from June 18). The film follows the adventures of best buds Luca and Alberto and is set in ‘Portorosso’, a fictional town in the Italian Riviera based on the wonder and beauty of Cinque Terre.

God, the wanderlust and yearning that trailer managed to conjure in me is insurmountable.

Does it not just make you want to throw away your responsibilities and book a one-way ticket to Cinque Terra ASAP? That’s what I’ll be doing the second we’re able to travel to Europe again, and if it’s yours too, I’ve kindly put together a list of slang/common/spicy phrases to slip into your conversations with the locals, so you don’t make a complete fool of yourself.

Even if you don’t get over there when the world’s back on, use these to impress Italian friends’ scary nonni, at restaurants and even in everyday conversation to simply add that touch of tomato-flavoured goodness.

Disclaimer: this slang is based on what my family from Calabria say. There are so many different dialects, so it may vary from region to region, but this should keep you mostly covered. 

Allora – You can pepper ‘Allora’ into any conversation. It’s the word you say when nothing else can be said. E.g. When you’ve already had gelato three times in a day, and a friendly old man named Franco gestures you over to his adorable shop, you simply say ‘Allora’ and have it a fourth time.

Paisani – This is the equivalent of, say, ‘cuz’. It’s what you call people who aren’t technically your cousins but are your cousins (if you know what I mean).

Mangia – Surely you’ve heard this one before – it means ‘eat’, and every Italian has had this yelled at them by an elder relative repeatedly. If you want to take it that extra step further, I would opt for ‘Mangiasti’ (which basically means the same thing but spicier) for extra authenticity.

Principessa/principesso – Call your waiters this (it means prince or princess), and they’ll treat you like royalty.

Ciccio/ciccia – Look it technically means ‘fat’ but it’s used in the context of something being cute. Saying ‘Bella’ or ‘Bello’ to a small, cute Italian child is too basic. Say this instead.

Dai – This one kind of means different things depending on how you say it. Could mean ‘huh?’, could mean ‘hurry up’.

Jesu – It’s basically Jesus, but without the last ‘s’, said in an Italian accent.

Testa di Rapa – This means broccoli head. Do what that what you may. It’s a very popular term of endearment/annoyance in my family.

Focu meu – It technically means ‘my fire’, but just yell it when you’re getting hot-headed.

Okay, here are a bunch of random ones too:

Mellenzane – It means eggplant, but also refers to / is an all-encompassing term for most antipasto vegetables.

Cipolla – This means onion.

Mapina – Tea towels.

Well, it looks like the closest we might get to going to Italy any time soon is watching Disney and Pixar’s Luca on repeat while wolfing down a calzone (which actually sounds like the perfect Friday night-in to me, tbh).

You’ll be able to live your Italian dreams vicariously through the movie streaming exclusively on Disney+ from June 18. Ciao!