English words borrowed from Italian

Published in: News 20/01/2023

Photo by Sailko

These 10 English words have been borrowed from Italian, but something went wrong, and they got lost in translation. In Italy, these expressions have a completely different meaning. Read the real meaning and listen to the correct pronunciation.

Al fresco

The expression al fresco in English means that we are having lunch or dinner in a restaurant, a café, or a bistro enjoying the open-air area. We are appreciating our meal in the fresh air outdoor. The expression is Italian, and literally it means in the fresh air, but the problem is that al fresco in Italy is synonymous of jail, prison, referring to the fact that once prison cells where not heated.


In Italy, the word bimbo means baby, toddler, young child. In American English bimbo became familiar at the beginning of the XX century, but it’s around 1910 that, for unknown reasons, it acquired the meaning of beautiful woman, usually blonde and curvaceous, completely shallow and unintelligent. Bimboes are also very enthusiastic about breast augmentation and facelifts.


In Italy, we offer our guests white confetti during weddings, pink or blue ones (accordingly to the gender) when a baby is born or red confetti to celebrate a university degree. We offer confetti, and we eat confetti, but they are almonds with a hard coat of sugar. How they became in English tiny bits of coloured paper to be thrown during parades, weddings, and other happy celebrations, we don’t really know. In Italian, those tiny bits of paper are called coriandoli, and we use them during Carnival.


In Italy, if you order a pepperoni pizza… you will have to eat a pizza topped with grilled capsicums, bell peppers. That’s because peperoni, with one ‘p’, plural of peperone, are vegetables and not hot and spicy salami. 


Casino, gambling house, is an Italian word meaning brothel… exactly, a house of prostitution. Casino in Italian is also chaos, big noise, disorder. Be careful though, gambling house in Italian is casinò, with that little mark, an accent on the “o”, which change the pronunciation. Casinò not Casino


If you are in Milan or in Rome and you are dying for a latte, do not go in a bar and ask for it: they will serve you a simple glass of milk. If you are looking for your foamy milk with coffee, you must ask for a latte macchiato: literally, a glass of foamy milk “stained” with coffee.


A panino (remember: the plural is panini, not paninis), is a crusty bread roll cut in half and filled with ham, cheese, slices of tomato or whatever you prefer. Usually, it is cold, but it can be grilled. In Us and UK, instead, panini are grilled sandwiches made with two slices of a bread loaf and filled with so many sauces and different kind of meat that they have nothing to share with typical Italian panini.


Stiletto in Italy has always been a dagger, not a high heel. Lately, though, this word started to be heard in Italy as well when talking about fashion. The suspect is that now stiletto with this new meaning has become a sort of loanword from English!

Tutti Frutti

This Italian expression meaning all-fruits doesn’t refer to candies or ice creams. In Italy, Tutti Frutti is just a song written by Little Richard.


This is not just a mispronounced word in every English-speaking country, it is also a misused word: prosciutto means ham and, since in Italy we have different types of ham, you always must specify if you want prosciutto crudo (cured ham) or prosciutto cotto (cooked ham). Parma ham is a prosciutto crudo, but is only the one produced around Parma. There are at least 25 other types of prosciutto crudo.

Classical music: learn to pronounce all the Italian terms
Espresso: learn to order your coffee in Ital

Share on

Enter the difficult name to pronounce

Sign up to our newsletter

Follow us on