If you want to learn to speak Italian like a native, while using slang words and phrases naturally, then you should watch Italian movies and TV shows that feature Italian native speakers. This is the best way to pick up authentic language use.
A great show for picking up Italian American slang words and culture is The Sopranos. This iconic series features standard Italian slang phrases as well as some slang words specific to the Italian community on the east coast of America.
In this post, we will break down some common and useful Italian colloquialisms and explore how watching TV and movies can be a great way to develop your natural language skills.
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Learning Italian by Watching TV and Movies
Getting to know Italian slang expressions from TV shows and movies is a great way to learn more about Italian culture, both in Italy and in Italian communities around the world.
Italian slang words and phrases are an essential part of sounding authentic and speaking like a native. For this reason, they are featured heavily in TV shows with Italian characters. Immersing yourself in these shows will allow you to absorb the language, and slang, in a natural way.
An excellent streaming platform for Italian shows and movies is Lingopie. This site is designed to help you learn Italian naturally by binging great TV. With Lingopie, you can use dual English and Italian subtitles, make flashcards of new vocabulary, and do quizzes on new words.
If you want to start speaking Italian like a local and less like you are reciting a textbook, start streaming great Italian TV today.
Italian Around the World
There are many Italian dialects in Italy alone. But consider the fact also that there is a strong Italian American community across the Atlantic with its own Italian expressions and pronunciations.
Depending on the TV show or movie you watch, you will be exposed to slang words and dialects connected with the local area. So, bear this in mind when choosing your next series.
There are some parts of the country, such as Naples in southern Italy, that are particularly known for having thick accents and harder-to-follow dialects, especially if you are a beginner.
The Sopranos is filmed mostly in English. It simply features the odd fun Italian slang word or phrase that you can pick up and start to use in context. This means it is super easy for beginners to follow and work out the meaning of phrases as they come up.
Below, we will list some handy and fun Italian slang words that you will come across regularly in The Sopranos as well as in other Italian TV and movies.
European Italian Slang
First, let's look at some common Italian slang terms, how to pronounce them and how to use them like a native speaker.
While the focus of this guide to Italian slang words is not pronunciation, we will examine a couple of examples and write them out phonetically.
As a general rule, in order to master Italian pronunciation, remember to pronounce vowels strongly and clearly. Bear in mind also that ch is pronounced like "k", while the sounds ci and ce are said like "chi" and "che" respectively.
Let's look at the phrase meno male. This means "just as well", and it is pronounced like "meh noh mah leh". As you can see, all vowel sounds are spoken clearly.
Now, look at che figata! The actual meaning of this slang is "what a big fig", but figuratively it means "how cool!" This saying is pronounced like "keh fee gah tah", with the ch sounding like a hard "k".
Finally, you will already know the term for "hi" and "bye" in Italian, ciao. This greeting is pronounced "chow". Here, you can see an example of ci being pronounced like the English "ch" sound.
Phrases For Italian Friends
As you'll see in The Sopranos, society in Italy is very social and family-oriented. So, you won't be surprised to learn there are lots of ways to ask someone how they are doing.
If you are meeting someone in person, complement your greeting of choice with a kiss on each cheek for the full Italian experience! You can use any of the following expressions when doing so:
- Che succede? - What's going on?
- Come stai? - How are you?
- Che si dice? - What's up?
- Come te la passi - How's it going?
To reply, you can say (non) molto bene, meaning "(not) very good".
Something you will hear Italians say all the time is va bene. This expression means "all right" or "okay". The literal translation of this charming phrase is "it goes well".
Fun Italian Slang Words and Phrases
A lot of informal language in Italian is used in The Sopranos. Often, this is to express strong emotions, such as dismay or shock.
The stereotype that Italians speak passionately with their hands is only slightly exaggerated, after all!
Che palle is a great expression of dismay. It literally means "what balls!" but is better translated as "how annoying!"
Another great one is che schifo!, which means "how disgusting!"
Mi fa cagare is a hilarious and slightly stronger way to express distaste in Italian. This slang expression literally means "it makes me shit", but the figurative meaning is "it disgusts me" or "I really don't like it!"
If you want to express surprise at how someone is talking or acting, you might say fuori come un balcone . This expression literally means "out like a balcony", but it is used to call someone crazy.
When one of your Italian friends has bad breath, you could say mangi cadaveri! This is a slightly dark but logical phrase that means "you eat dead bodies". Note that this phrase is not widely used, and it is more common to say avere l’alitosi.
Finally, come il cacio sui maccheroni is such a hilariously Italian saying that it's hard to believe it is real. This Italian slang phrase means "like cheese on macaroni" and it is used to describe two things that are perfect for each other.
Translating English and Italian Idioms
When learning a foreign language, you will not always find a direct comparison for the idioms in your own language.
As you have seen with mi fa cagare, sometimes a slang expression stands alone and is not directly translatable. However, other times we can interchange an idiom in one language directly for one in another.
Take bocca al lupo, "into the wolf's mouth", for instance. This is an expression used to wish luck to a performer before they go on stage. It is used in exactly the same way as the English phrase, "break a leg".
Another fun example of mirroring idioms is avere le mani in pasta, which literally means to have a hand in the pasta, but figuratively it is the same as the English notion of having a finger in every pie or being involved in everything.
Finally, an important saying in the language of love: Amore a prima vista. Amore means "love" and prima vista means "first sight". So, this literally means "love at first sight" and it is used just the same as the English phrase.
Italian American Slang
By this point, you have learned some witty, practical, and commonly used Italian slang expressions. Now, we will look at a handful of Italian slang phrases and words specific to Italian Americans and made famous by The Sopranos.
These sayings will be primarily used by Italian speakers using their own dialect within their community. So, bear this in mind before you march into a restaurant in New Jersey and demand a plate of gabagool. You'd probably prefer to sound more like Vito Spatafor than Michael Scott!
If you have ever watched The Office (who hasn't?!), you might have seen the episode in which Michael thinks an insurance man is an Italian Mafioso and tries to scare him by playing up to the Italian mob stereotype as you see in movies and series like The Sopranos. Part of this ridiculous act involves him ordering "gabagool" at a restaurant.
Gabagool is an Italian American word for the European Italian capocollo. This is a delicious cold cut of pork neck traditional in Italy. The word is made up of capo, meaning "head" and collo, meaning "neck", as the cut runs down the neck from the head of the pig.
Due to the pronunciation of capocollo by Italians with working-class dialects on the east coast of the U.S, the pronunciation gabagool developed and was made well-known by The Sopranos.
It has now become a trope in many shows and movies featuring Italian mafia characters.
This is another Italo-American slang word that you might have heard in movies such as Goodfellas and Martin Scorsese's Casino and which also came into popular use after being featured on The Sopranos.
Just as with "gabagool", "goomar" is not actually an Italian word, but developed due to changing pronunciation over time. The colloquialism comes from the word comare, which means "godmother" in Italian.
In the context of Italian American mob men, it came to be used as a slang word for a mistress. The idea is that your mistress cooks for you, is at your beck and call, and looks after you without asking questions, like a mother figure, but with added obligatory sexual favors.
This is another exclamation that you will hear frequently in The Sopranos and in context, it means "damn it!" Just as with the above examples of slang from the show, this too is actually a corrupted version of a standard Italian word.
In the south of Italy, it is common to say Madonna in a moment of shock or dismay, using the Holy Mother's name in vain. This is similar to someone exclaiming "Christ!" in English.
The Italian American community largely migrated from the south and this Italian slang word came with them.
The "d" sound in the Neapolitan dialect is often changed to an "r", and the ends of words are frequently dropped (eg. muzzadell for "mozzarella" and proshoot for "proscuitto").
So, we are left with Marone! As this exclamation originates from blasphemy, it carries quite a significant weight among the Catholic community in Italy. However, in Italian American communities, it is common and largely inoffensive.
FAQs: Italian Slang words and Phrases
What does the Italian slang word "Sfacime" mean?
This colloquialism comes from Sicilian slang. The verb sfaciare means to destroy, but in Sicily, the term sfacime came to mean "semen".
When this slang was brought overseas to the U.S, it began to mean "asshole". You can call someone a sfacime in an insulting or endearing way, just as you can call your friends "asshole" as a friendly joke.
What does "chooch" mean?
The word chooch is another bastardization of a word in Italian, ciuccio. In most of Italy, this means "pacifier", but in southern Italian slang, it means "donkey".
The southern Italian migrants to the U.S took this term and over time it became chooch. It is used to describe someone as stupid. Don't be a chooch!
What does "Scumbari" mean in Italian?
This is another classic slang term derived from the southern dialect. If someone looks a bit scumbari, they are disheveled in appearance.
Moreover, you can say non fai scumbari for "don't embarrass me".
What is the most popular Italian slang phrase?
Certainly, the most known and loved Italian slang phrase worldwide is Mamma mia! meaning "my goodness!" The phrase literally means "my mother".
It is not clear where this slang phrase originated, but it seems likely that it has something to do with the importance of the mother in Italy and in religion.
Summing Up: Learning Italian Slang with The Sopranos
In this post, we have covered several common Italian slang phrases used by native speakers, which also feature in the famous series The Sopranos. A great way to sound more proficient when speaking is to include these informal words in conversation.
Moreover, you are now familiar with some Italo-American language made popular thanks to TV shows. You can learn more about this slang by studying Italian TV shows like The Sopranos.
This is a fun and engaging way to pick up the natural use of Italian slang phrases and use this language authentically in the appropriate context.
For more entertaining TV shows in the Italian language, check out Lingopie, the streaming service that is designed to teach you a new language. Why not sign up to a 7-day free trial for all languages and test your Italian today?
Mamma mia, che figata!
Ciao for now!