Ten of My Favorite Roman Words and Expressions

14 Sep

And if you are squeamish about sexual innuendo, sexual references, references to private parts, bad words, bad taste, or using private parts as expletives and for emphasis, or just for all-around good fun? Well, let’s just say this post isn’t for you.


Let’s just say Roman culture in general probably isn’t for you. Come here on vacation. If you decide to move here, only frequent English-speaking circles. But don’t you dare stay and mingle too much with the locals, or else you’re going to end up feeling offended. And believe me, if you want to “do as the Romans do” you damn well sure better not be easily offended. We love our locker-room talk around these parts.

Oh, because PEOPLE! How the Romans love vulgarity as part of their irresistible charm!

And OH! How their swears almost always revolve around vulgar ways to say certain body parts. The fun truly never ends. I’ll try to contain myself.

I must say that as an American girl who is fluent in Italian, to get your master’s degree you must conquer Roman “dialect,” which truly in my opinion isn’t an incomprehensible dialect as much as it is a form of unique, gutterish slang and particular accent. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE ME SOME ROMANACCIO. Oh yes indeedy! Can I share with you my inner secrets to make a person think you know Roman in just 10 easy steps?

Ok. So let’s just start with the nitty gritty and get it out of the way.

I’m going to go ahead and put this out there: I am in love with the rainbow flavor variety of expressions to describe a prostitute. Oh my God: they never end. You can use them to insult a person, to talk about a U-turn (just like flipping a bitch!), or to simply describe with your own special flair the type of prostitute you’re referring to. Here goes nothing:

1) The all-time favorite classic. Mignotta (mih-NYOHT-uh). It almost sounds demure, but it’s not. I’d literally translate this to mean “whore” but Italians will inevitably try to convince you it means “bitch” in English. No. Not the way we would mean it. Trust me. It’s the other.

2) Roman prostitute. You’re really local when you can slip into conversation a phrase like “Yeah that woman’s makeup was like she was just coming off work on the Salaria” or “Oh my God she looks like she should be out on the Colombo.” The Salaria is your all-purpose go-to road when you want to make an off-hand prostitute reference. Use it and you’ll sound like you’ve lived here for ages. The ladies of the night aren’t only night owls on the Salaria. Oh, heavens no. They’re out there at 10 am if you head to the shopping mall. Cover your children’s eyes.

3) Hard-core fun. BAGASCIA (ba-GAH-shuh). Or even better, throw in vecchia, as in VECCHIA BAGASCIA. Oh, I just love an old whore. See also puttana, and one of my other personal favorites, BALDRACCA (ball-DRAH-kuh). All equally good times.

Ok, enough already. Geez!

How about cheating? You know that everyone’s doing it around here, don’t you? Ok, I won’t exaggerate. But truly, the concept of faithfulness takes on new meaning here, which is why we need specifically colorful phrases to describe when someone is cheating or getting cheated on. Because you know we all know it’s happening and we all talk about it like the weather.

4) Classic. “Mettere le corna” a.k.a. “putting the horns” on someone, that someone being the “cornuto“. I tried to research the etymology of this for you but got cross-eyed in historical references. If you feel braver than I do and can read in Italian, check this out. Otherwise, trust that some emperor guy used to steal married women, imprison their husbands, and then triumphantly have a stag’s head hung out in front of the poor dude’s house. And so that became the symbol of a guy whose wife was sleeping with another man. Or something. The hand gesture can also be used to ward off bad luck. (Not to be confused with stringy-haired rockers at an AC/DC concert, of course.) That is, if the man doesn’t say instead…

5) FAMME GRATTA’ which basically means “let me scratch” as in LET ME SCRATCH MY DAMN BALLS because holy effing crapoly man. Whatever you just said? That was like, I need to JINX to the max because dear God let’s hope something like that doesn’t happen to me and therefore not only will I SAY “let me scratch” but then I will try to discreetly proceed to actually DO SO. In public. (And you think I’m joking. Truth is stranger than fiction, my dear friends.)

6) But before I forget, get really fancy if you want, and say that a guy has a BASKET OF SNAILS ON HIS HEAD which is like, wow, a lot of horns, right? Un cesto de lumache in testa. And you’re sure to look local and super in-the-know.

Um. Ok. So we’ve covered prostitutes, and cheaters, and bad luck mixed in for good measure. And I’m only up to 6. Where to go from here? Back to the basics.

7) If you come to Rome, you must certainly perfect your most convincing rendition of the expression “AHO’!” also written by Romans as AO’ and also pronounced AO?? It’s very all-purpose. Which reminds me of a fun parody from years back of a song that was popular, which was originally about childlike wonder called “Quando i bambini fanno oh” and got turned into the Roman version “Quanno i romani fanno aho'” Lots of good expressions in this one. For advanced students of Roman dialect:

8) And how about NON ROMPE or even better NUN ME ROMPE ER CAZZO which is like really vulgar don’t break my balls, man! Actually that would be NUN ME ROMPE LE PALLE so that other one is like don’t break my dick. No more like don’t break my cock. EEK. Sorry. I promise I’m trying to be clean, but I live in Rome, and therefore:

9) CHE TE LO DICO A FARE? Otherwise known as FUGGEDDABOUTIT. Check this out. First, watch in English. Then, watch in Italian. Sheer genius.

But let me save one of the quintessential delights for last. I give you:

10) MA vàttel’a ppijà ‘n der culo! Yes, I dare you to say that five times fast! Romans love anything about taking it up the ass. I’d estimate they have, oh, somewhere around about three bajillion references to getting it there, taking it there, giving it there–good lord, the list goes on and on. But this will cover you in most situations. Add in a dashing sweep of the arm and hand if you’re so inclined. Kind of like a real insult in Roman dialect, but truly more often it’s used between friends to say something vulgarly equivalent to the meek-in-comparison English “go take a hike!” HA! We’re SOOO not as creative as Romans, people.

And just to prove that many people in this world, like myself, might have either waaay too much free time on their hands, or simply stay at home on Friday nights and try to entertain themselves like I have been doing here, I now give you your moment of Zen:


14 Responses to “Ten of My Favorite Roman Words and Expressions”

  1. Janet Thomas September 14, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    Grazie mille. These will surely come in handy.

  2. SG September 14, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

    Bagascia is not Roman, neither is cornuto or che to lo dico a fare.

    I think you are confusing Marconi with Colombo.

    People that are not ethnocentric will not be offended. You can look up ethnocentrism on Wikipedia:

    For those that are interested in Roman dialect, please look into Trilussa:

  3. Catherine September 15, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    Dio –! and I thought they were colourful in Veneto, but it’s all about God and dogs. So weird. And the Roman arse fixation – now that explains a few things…

  4. Andrea September 16, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Ahahaha great! But you forgot “chi te se ‘ncula”, literally “who fucks you”, which means I don’t care what you say, I don’t care who you are, I will do it my way, regardless of what you say…

  5. Grazia September 19, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Nooooo! You forgot “mortacci”, which is the best Roman word in my opinion!!! Grat work, though 😉

  6. Jack September 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    I wish I had known some of these when we lived in Roma!

  7. Un'americana a Roma September 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    Yeah, sorry about that semantical error. It started out as a post on Roman and then it kind of veered off into Italian in general. Woo, good call there. We wouldn’t want to confuse true scholars of Roman dialect.

    Personally I prefer Belli but hey, everyone is entitled to their opinion.

    The wiki link on ethnocentrism was a great attempt to render my blog serious. But, my regular readers know me better than that!

  8. Un'americana a Roma September 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Oh and might I suggest, for those that are interested in Roman dialect, this site

    We’re low-brow around here, SG. Lighten up!

  9. travelgardeneat September 20, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    I laugh at the one regarding the women on via Salaria — my first experience driving in Italy was picking up the rental car in Rome to drive to Siena. The GPS would not get a signal due to all the buildings surrounding the rental office. As I felt my panic rise, and another car lined up to enter the roadway and depart the rental office, I glanced at the paper map and took a deep breath, and off we went down the series of one-way streets to find our way to the main artery and the A-1. As we were on what had to be via Salaria, I see these women periodically placed along the roadway, at bus/traffic pull-outs. I make a remark to my husband about the prostitutes so flagrantly flaunting their wares mid-day, and he says, “they’re just waiting for the bus.” One of my teens then says, “yeah, you saw how all the young girls are dressed now”. I am not a fuddy-duddy, and I know what I see. After the third one, made up even more risque than the first two, with heels that I could have used for a child’s booster chair, my husband quietly said, “well, maybe you’re right . . . ” ~ Kat B.

  10. loquensmachina September 21, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    Wonderful! Thank you for another funny (and best of all, informative!) post. Like Kat B., I too inadvertently experienced Via Salaria on several occasions while riding the bus north to Capena…I had no idea I was in THE place to locate this kind of service. Many of them were well prepared (folding lawn chairs, etc.) and seemed to be doing a lot of business, judging by the number of empty vehicles sitting by the side of the road.

    I feel like I will never be able to remember all of these, but would love to be able to break out some Romanaccio (!) in my attempts to fit in in the Roman scene. I should print them out and practice saying them on the bus here in San Francisco (probably an interesting ice-breaker).

  11. Alex Ingram September 22, 2012 at 4:18 am #

    Eh,,,the Italians just borrowed the arse thing from the Greeks. When in Rome,,,hey Roam around!,,,everyone else does.

  12. Doug September 22, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    I’m not sure how it would translate but it would seem that somehow as the Euro collapses over time and the dominoes fall, all the countries that must prostitute themselves to the European Central Bank will need an inflated and expansive vocabulary to cope euphemistically with economies that will have the husbanding of their austerity made a prison and the Mettere le corna a foreclosure emblem on every household. This explains how the European Union in Brussels is putting the escargot on the head of the ghost of Brutus’s Lira and the Drachma that’s Greek to me. Hard to understand why the sausage is not cooked. But everything is moving at a snails pace so I suppose there’s still time for a road trip for all the ministers to relax. Maybe besides buying the Emperor’s sovereign bonds they’ll issue discount coupons for the road trips along the Rubicon or the Salaria. This might stimulate… um, uh,… the economy. Caveat emptor. And as they said, when Marco Polo brings spaghetti to Rome it will be interesting times if the snails have no butter,the bread has no olive oil, and the people eat cake. It guess it loses something in the translation.

  13. tracie p September 30, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    oh but no one can fend off breaking of dicks like the napoletani. “nu’ me rumper’ o’ cazz’!” “m’ha rott’ o’ cazz,” and sometimes it’s simply “‘p o’ cazz,” sounds like “bo gatz.”

    anyway, i’m sure i have some misplaced apostrophes, but you get the idea.

    great post 🙂

  14. Tonia August 6, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

    I lived in Rome for 4 years, and you just made me laugh out loud! Thanks for taking me back to a really fun time in my life!! Ben fatto!

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