Lisa Marie Basile
February 08, 2017 2:30 pm
Lisa Marie Basile /

As languages go, Italian (and its many varying dialects) has yielded some of the most beautiful-sounding words — in the way the words sing and the how they so vividly roll off the tongue. As a Romance language (quite literally), it comes from Latin and today remains the closest descendant to Latin.

There are actually many Italian words that have absolutely no English equivalent (and many gorgeous names as well), so next time you’re in Italy, Sicily, northern Sardinia, southern Switzerland, or many other places like Croatia, Albania, and Brazil, you can pull out some of these gems in your everyday conversations:

1. Menefreghista

When someone exclaims, “I don’t care!” (Non me ne frega!) all the time — because they genuinely don’t tend to care — they might be called a Menefreghista. We’re not sure this can possibly refer to Italians’ sense of style, however, as they truly have that down.

2. Gattara

This phrase is purrfection. It basically means, “An old woman who cares for stray cats.” In English, we have “crazy cat lady,” but that’s riddled with negative connotations and judgment. In Italian, it’s just so much more elegant. Gattara.

3. Struggimento

This one’s exceptionally beautiful — a good one for the poets and dreamers among us. Somewhere between misery and yearning this little word island sits — its translated definition isn’t very clear, because it suggests pain but also want (or yearning or desire or need): Want caused by pain — and pain caused by want.

4. Pantofolaio

Everyone has at least one Pantofolaio in their life, and that person usually loves to bask in the safety and coziness of their couch — all the time, that is, since it may “disrupt the tranquility of their existence.” We can’t say we haven’t been in a pantofolaio mood ourselves every now and again.

5. Magari

In Italian, you might want to say “maybe” — but only if you’re talking about something you might do should you have the fortune to actually do so. Essentially, it’s “if only” mixed with “maybe.” Between this word and Struggimento, one can deduce that the Italians love to embrace their suffering (which is likely why the country has long-produced such great art).

6. Dietrologia

This gorgeous word (how sweetly it rolls off the tongue!) suggests that all surface reality is a sort of illusion and that behind reality, or underneath the surface of what we see or experience, is another reality or truth.

7. Gatta morta

While this literally translates to “dead cat,” when the Italians use this phrase, they mean a woman who is so alluring and persuasive that she pounces on you after you begin to trust her. Specifically, this phrase can translate to mean “flirty lady.” You can always trust Italians to go with the theatrical (ahem, the author of this article, who is Italian, can very much so attest).

8. Culaccino

When you lift your cold, wet glass, there is usually a circular mark or stain upon the table. English speakers might quite clunkily call that a “water ring,” but not the Italians — their word is Culaccino, which, in a way, creates a feeling of dietrologia. The word seems pretty straightforward, but there is something magical about it — the idea that there was something left behind by an object, that it’s sort of an imprint or ghost.

9. Meriggiare

This gorgeous word is somewhat like the universally-understood concept “siesta,” which means afternoon break or nap from work. Except that Meriggiare is more to do with napping or taking a break in the shade. The Italian sun is incredibly powerful, so we can understand the need for resting somewhere away from the blinding heat.

10. Furbo

Furbo is used to mean “sly,” or “clever,” but it’s got other elements to it that can’t be summed up so easily. There’s a sense that this person, who perhaps pulls something over on you, is due some credit or appreciation for his slyness.

Ah, Italian. You are a dizzying, delightful language.