Italian words that cannot be translated into other languages: here’s what they are and what they mean

Every language boasts a certain number of expressions and words that are untranslatable into any other, and so is theItalian presents a range of words that capture specific nuances of emotions, situations or cultural concepts, and have no correspondence in any other language. In translation, this phenomenon is defined realia: untranslatable words, proverbs, phrases, idioms that denote culturally specific things.

What are the Italian terms that resist literal translation, challenging understanding beyond linguistic barriers? These are words used in everyday life, most of which refer to the spheres of emotions And feelingsand the culture specific.

Untranslatable Italian words
  • 1Careless
  • 2Amazing
  • 3Noon
  • 4Cat lady
  • 5I don’t know
  • 6Couchfoot
  • 7Abbiocco
  • 8Aperitif


A careless he is a person who is disinterested in everything and everyone, caring only for his own interests. In French there is the equivalent “je-v’en-ficose“. English offers us a translation close to the Italian nuance “couldn’t give a damn“.


Treccani explains to us that the meaning of the word derives from Rocambolethe bold and unscrupulous protagonist of the French writer’s adventurous companion novels P.-A. Panson du Terrail, Character at the center of rather adventurous situations marked by continuous twists. If in Italian it is possible to express nuances of concept with this single term, English speakers, for example, must do it with an entire sentence.


“Sunday pale and absorbed
near a scorching garden wall,
listen among the briers and brushwood
clicks of blackbirds, rustles of snakes”

Thus opens a poem by Eugenio Montale contained in the collection Ossi di Seppia, in which the protagonist is precisely this courtly and now mostly obsolete word. “Meriggiare” sees us rest in the shade in the early hours of afternoon, outdoors, on a sunny day; perfect representation of a state of stillness in contact with the nature. But how would this “physical and spiritual rest” be translated into another language? No additional nuance can be captured in the corresponding translations for the word deriving from meriggio, a noun that indicatesthe hours around noon, when the sun is highest on the horizon.”

Cat lady

Have you ever met a person who loved cats so much that he dedicated much of his time to taking care of them, even strays? This Italian word implies a series of psychological and social descriptive nuances that are impossible to translate into other languages. The expression Cat Lady in English it exists, but it doesn’t have the same connotations.

It should be noted that, despite the late twentieth century attestation of the term and the prevalence of the feminine, the custom of feeding cats without an owner is ancient, and not the constant prerogative of women. Already from Rome, in the first half of nineteenth centurywe receive evidence of the work of the so-called «carnacciari», itinerant sellers and givers of low quality meat (offal, tripe) intended for both domestic and stray animals, especially cats.

I don’t know

The expression ‘boh’ is one of the most used by Italians, typically in an informal context. The etymology is uncertain but Tullio De Mauro proposes that it is simply a word onomatopoeic. This means that it is the transcription of the sound we make when we express that state of mind.

The peculiarity of this interjection is that it can express a slightly different meaning based on the context and tone of voice: from the impossibility of knowing the answer to a question to skepticism. And let’s not forget the typical accompanying gesture of the boh: mouth down, shrug of shoulders and raising of hands. Unequivocal.

To express the same concept, English and Spanish, for example, need at least two words: I don’t know, Who knows, No idea, No self, “¡Ni idea!



One of the many Italian words that describes laziness and the desire to relax. A couch potato is a very lazy person who loves comfort and who particularly likes spending his days at home. If for Italians the word that best describes the desire to stay at home is “slipper”, for the English it is “couch-potato”. The union of these two words is intended to indicate those people who are so attached to the sofa at home that they almost put down roots there, just like a potato.


As soon as we finish lunch we feel overwhelmed by sleep, the yawns multiply and the eyelids begin to close. This explains the trap. The term abbiocco may not be familiar to everyone, given that it is a regional Italian word from the central area, particularly Lazio and Marche. Stuck originally meant ‘curled up, curled up’ but soon, by extension, ‘struck by drowsiness, drowsy’ and ‘depressed, dejected’; it is attested three times in the novel with a Roman setting Boys of life (1955) by Pier Paolo Pasolini (an example: «They stood there silently, one turned towards the other, but as if they couldn’t even see each other”).

There are ways to express the same concept in other languages, in French and English, for example, both of which are quite informal and consist of more than one word: in French we say “pump coup” or “coup de wads”which literally mean shoe shot or blow of a bar; in English “food coma.


In this case it is a neologism, that is, a term or construct recently introduced into the language, motivated by new technical or customary needs. It designates a kind of evening aperitif that replaces dinner as it is accompanied by a rich buffet!

Born in the 90s from an idea of ​​the Milanese entrepreneur, Vinicio Valdowhich to encourage people to drink in its establishment, set up buffets during aperitifs, has spread throughout the country in recent years.

In French it is translated as “aperitif “dînatoire”, which means the same thing, although there is no contraction like in Italian. In English, however, in 2015 the word aperitif was in a certain sense considered untranslatable by the Guardian.