More Words and Phrases They Never Taught You in Italian Class

21 Apr


Not that you’ll ever need them. But, here is some random nonsense for you. Just because I love you *this much* …

1. So the other day I was thinking about the totally useless words you might hear once every couple years. Like spleen. Consider yourself fluent once you know the world “spleen” in Italian, right? Here you go: milza. Say it with me: “MEAL-zah.” Ahhh, now doesn’t that feel good?

I thought it meant gallbladder, to be perfectly honest with you. But no. That’s cistifellea. Which I can assure you, in twelve years in Italy, I have never needed. Not a once. Although, I have also heard it referred to as colecisti. This is my life.

2. Or what about con i controcazzi? Have you ever heard this phrase? Try looking it up in Google translate, I dare you. They won’t give you anything, not even a literal translation. That is what I’m here for. Because this is useless trivia that you need to devote some brain cells to. You could say to someone “Tu sei uno proprio con i controcazzi.” Literally we’d be saying “Wow, you’re really someone with the against-cocks.” I know, right? Makes no sense. But, you see, “cocks” as a colloquial expression has a great significance and contribution to make in the Italian lexicon. We need cazzi like we need to breathe. Just trust me on this one. (Yes my vulgar double entendre humor is entirely intentional. I’m not as ingenua as you thought, now am I?)

Wait. Then again. Don’t take my word on it. Just ask Antonella Clerici, who expressed this concept best on live television.

But frankly, if we really want a native speaker definition, let’s consult Yahoo Answers, oh wise source of all knowledge. Domanda (question): “Cosa sono i controcazzi?” (What are the counter-cocks?)

I controcazzi sono il di più, quello che ingigantisce la definizione di c..azzi. esempio vai a comprare un automobile nuova, il venditore ti descrive gli accessori base come c..azzi e gli optional come controcazzi. Quindi ti sei appena comprato una bella Automobile con i C..azzi e i Controcazzi. Ciao

The counter-cocks are something more, something that enlarges the definition of cazzi. For example, go to buy a new car, the dealer describes the base accessories to you as the cocks, and the optionals are the counter-cocks. Therefore, you’ve just bought yourself a nice car with both the cocks and the counter-cocks. Ciao.

Um, thanks, I think?

Personally, I prefer PaulfromItaly’s definition here. “Cool ass” As in, “he’s a cool ass player.” Yes, I think Paul has captured well the spirit of the counter cocks.

3. Or what about here in Rome, they say this thing when they want you to calm down, they say: Stai manzo! And then, laughingly, if you’re a native English speaker, they sometimes tell you, “Be beef!”

Yes, this is not normal. I agree. But in any case, be beef means the rough equivalent of “chill.”

No! OHMYGOD even Urban Dictionary has caught on to stai manzo. I am truly awed and at the same time humbled by my vast knowledge of international phraseology.

4. Or… hmmm. How about when they tell you Stai in campana! which is literally “Be in bell!” Or they say Devi stare proprio in campana “You really need to be in bell.” It’s like “be careful, watch out, be on your guard.”

5. Then there’s di coccio, as in “Lui è proprio di coccio.” Coccio is like terracotta pottery. Usually this phrase is accompanied by someone knocking on their head, or on the table, to indicate how hard it is. So it means they’re hard-headed or stubborn or even stupid. Not made out of crockery.

6. There’s also the always popular Me sto a tajà (Roman), which is like English “I’m cutting up” in idiomatic terminology, see definition number 5 here.

There you go folks: six for the road.

Now, go forth and talk about your spleen, and the spleens of others. xoxo


17 Responses to “More Words and Phrases They Never Taught You in Italian Class”

  1. Nerys April 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    “We need cazzi like we need to breathe.” is one of the truest things I’ve read about the Italian language ever.

  2. Kate Bailward April 21, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Also: when you go to Palermo and see all the paninerie advertising ‘pani ca meusa’? That’s the Sicilian for ‘milza’. I was dying to try it but they wouldn’t let me because it was summertime. Damn these Sicilians / Italians and their sensible seasonal eating habits.

  3. Nathalie (@spacedlaw) April 21, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    My spleen or that of everybody elses’ accursed dead ancestors. Of course.

  4. Antiqua Tours April 21, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    This is so fantastic! Sti’cazzi, but I actually do…

  5. Un'americana a Roma April 21, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    AHAHAHAHA seriously I am LOL-ing here, and I hate LOL because as I always say no one ever REALLY laughs out loud when they type it. But yes, yes I am.

  6. Un'americana a Roma April 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    WHAA? That’s so odd. You mean they serve spleen as a gastronomic delicacy? Bleh. But yes, seasonal eating is fun. Does that mean there’s a spleen season?? The mind boggles.

  7. Un'americana a Roma April 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    YESSSS! Limortacci loro indeed!

  8. Un'americana a Roma April 21, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Mwah! Luv you S!

  9. tracie p April 21, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    and i challenge you to find 10 out of 10 italians who all actually know the difference between the milza and cistifellea. 🙂

  10. Luca April 22, 2013 at 2:48 am #

    I guess controcazzi comes from the mechanical term “controdado” (locknut? dado = nut), that is a second nut placed after the first one to keep them, mh…, screwed tight. having a controdado is a sign a work was done with skilled craftmanship and careful attention to the details, all things summed up in the prefix contro- (against the unscrewing).

    (the id parameter was completely random).

  11. simcek April 22, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    I totally agree with Luca here on the etymology of “controcazzi”.
    And thanks for teaching me the English for cistifellea. I feel much more relaxed now, should I be far from home and have a problem with my gallbladder. Now I only need to find out what it is.

  12. janavi April 22, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    Antonella provides us with much amusement, especially with the dresses she wears on that singing show with the kids. But I have actually found quite a few good recipes on her cooking show. Love the Anna Moroni,

  13. Un'americana a Roma April 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Seriously? I dunno. Seems like Italians know way more about internal organs and where they’re located than my American counterparts. But maybe that’s just because they need their livers so much for anger storage. 🙂

  14. Un'americana a Roma April 24, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    WOW. Luca, seriously, you are my etymological hero today. This is why I love my readers. SO FRICKIN’ SMART. xoxo

  15. Un'americana a Roma April 24, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    Aids in fat digestion and concentrates bile produced by the liver.

    OMG I just said “bile.” That is so gross.

  16. Un'americana a Roma April 24, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    Seriously? Well, at least there is a redeeming quality then. Do we want to talk about the decrepit dirty old man who is her co-host? What is that guy’s deal? He totally scares me with that Chester Molester grin of his. Yikes.

  17. Ele April 28, 2013 at 5:10 am #

    Ahahah!! Bellissimo e divertente! :)))

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