There are seemingly identical words that take one meaning in English and a completely different one in Italian. So don’t let them trick you! Together in this lesson we will look at those words that have different meanings wether you are talking in Italian or in English. Let’s see if you already know both of their meanings…
Same words, different meanings
If you are watching a movie in Italian, you have probably noticed that, during a marriage, the actors talk about “confetti”, but you don’t see any piece of paper falling from the ceiling… Rather,you simply see people eating sweets. but why? What’s going on?
Well, while in English “confetti” are colored pieces of paper thrown in the air to celebrate, in Italian they are small egg-shaped sweets made with an almond or a hazelnut covered in colored sugar. They are usually given to the guests during wedding parties, births, or special occasions like a degree cerimony. Ok, ok, both of them share the idea of celebration, thet’s true. But be careful of what country you are in! You would never want to have a bunch of Italian confetti falling on your head… because that could hurt!
In Italian those small colored pieces of paper are called “coriandoli”.
Regarding the next word, we are talking about food!
Be careful about what you want to eat when you are at a pizza restaurant. Actually if you ask for a pepperoni pizza, don’t expect a pizza with cold cuts! Actually, what in English is called “pepperoni”, in Italian is called “salame piccante” (spicy salami). So, and let me stress this out, if you want an American “papperoni”, in Italy you have to ask for a pizza with “salame piccante”. Otherwise, the waiter will surely misunderstand and bring you the vegetable, because that’s what peperoni (peppers) are in Italy, those that can be green, yellow, or red, and that could be very hard on your stomach. So… be careful!
Remaining in the field of food, or more specifically in that of drinks, the next word I want to talk you about is latte.
The word latte, in some English speaking countries, and especially in some bars and cafeterias, refers to what we usually call caffelatte, that is an espresso with some hot milk.
On the other hand, in Italy “latte” is the typical drink that we give to little children. And clearly nobody wants to give coffee to children. To us “latte” the white drink, pure and simple, the one that in English is called “milk” to be clear. So bi mindful of what you ask for in Italian bars!
I swear it’s not on purpose guys, but the next word regards food and restaurants too! I’m talking about the expression al fresco. Have you ever heard it?
Most likely, an English speaker coming to Italy will look for a restaurant “al fresco”, meaning a pub, a bar or a restaurant, with tables outside the venue, and that would be alright. Because in Italian, even if it’s a bit of dialectal expression, “al fresco” refers to a place with a pleasant climate, not too hot and not too cold, exactly “fresco” (cool). As an example if you ask for a “tavolo al fresco” at a restaurant, they will probably give you a table close to the air conditioner or outside the venue, but where there is a bit of shade and possibly a pleasant breeze. As you can see, in this instance the meanings are similar, but not quite the same!
Inoltre, Furthermore, in Italian the expression “al fresco” also means something completely different, that is “in jail”. Ah ah… If I say that Paolo in “al fresco”, everything depends on the context! It could mean that Paolo is in the shade, where there is no sun or scorching heat, or that he is jail!
You are watching an Italian movie and you see someone packing up a present and the he asks someone else “Mi passi lo scotch” (can you hand me the scotch). Yoy are probably wondering “Why would he want to drink alcohol while packing presents? Can’t he do that later?”. Well, no, that person needs the scotch to do that, because, in Italian, scotch is what it’s commonly called “tape” in english!
Of course, in Italian we use that word to talk about the “Scottish whiskey” as well. Everything rests on the context. But let’s just say that Italians aren’t really famous for drinking scotch, so they will most likely refer to tape.
Se If you go into a clothing shop in Italy, you may read that they are selling “body”. No, no need to overreact: it’s not a human body traffic! As a matter of fact, in Italian, we use the word “body”, refers to a piece of clothing for girls, often used for dancing!
The English word “body” is translated in Italian with the word “corpo”.
If you are watching a movie about sport in Italian, you will most likely hear the players calling their coach”mister”. Mister! Mister! Mister!
Ehm, no, they are not being extremely respectful… actually, while in English “mister” is a respectful way to call and talk about a grown man that you don’t know very well, if at all, the Italian equivalent would be “signore”.
But then, who is this “mister”? Well, he is simply the coach. But while the word “allenatore” (coach) mainly states his job, the word “mister” is the one used in that field, and is a bit more informal and “affectionate”.
If you are in Italy and need something to pack up your present, don’t ask for a “box”, because the shop clerc may tell you that you are in the wrong place and that you need to go to an estate agency. And they wouldn’t be wrong!
Truth be told, while in English a “box” is a container made of paper, in Italian we call that a “scatola”.
“Box”, on the other hand, in Italian is pretty much a synonym of “garage”, the enclosed space where you usually leave your car or keep those things you don’t use anymore.
If you are in Italy and are looking for a period of trial for a job at the start of your career that will allow you to improve in the field you are interested in or are studying, they might talk you about a “stage”. The word “stage” in Italian is a synonym for “tirocinio”, in short what in English people call “internship”.
On the other hand, the English word “stage”, the one used by actors, in Italian is called “palcoscenico” or simply “palco”.
Speaking of internships, the word studio in Italian could refer to a room suited for, as espected, studying or some sort of office or working place, especially for freelancers or indipendent professionals, like architects or artists or medics. In many English speaking countries this word keeps its Italian meaning, but it could also refer to a very small apartment with only one room, which in Italian is called “monolocale”.
If at the start of a meting you ask for the “agenda”, your Italian co-workers may simply hand you a small notebook with paper sheets where you jot down notes or a to-do-list. No, they are not making fun of you because you are foreigners, this is just the Italian agenda.
This is obviously very different from the English version, where the agenda is instead the daily schedule, or the program meant for a work meeting.
Your Italian co-worker tells you that there’s a very cute “bimbo” asking about you? Then you should expect 3-4-5 year old kid and not a woman. As a matter of fact, this word completely harmless here in Italy, and is used to talk about what in English would be a kid or a baby. Ok, it could be offensive if you say it to an adult, because you are pretty much telling him that he is still an immature, and behaves like a kid.
And it has nothing to do with an easy woman, beautiful but very lacking in intelligence, that is what “bimbo” refers to in English.
And we have finally arrived at the end of today’s lesson! Let me know in the comments if you ever got into an embarassing situation in Italy bacause of these words!
Before saying goodbye I want to give you a little tip: as it’s well known, one of the best way to learna language is reading, so I would advise you to give a look at the best Italian books for every level!