English words borrowed from Italian


These 10 English words have been borrowed from Italian, but something went wrong, and they got lost in translation. In Italy, these expressions have an entirely different meaning. Read the real meaning and listen to their correct pronunciation (click the blue words).

Al fresco: what does it really mean?

The expression al fresco in English means that you are having lunch or dinner in a restaurant, a café, or a bistro enjoying the open-air area. You are enjoying your meal in the fresh air outdoor. The expression is borrowed from Italian, and in Italian it literally means in the fresh air, like in English. But this expression has also a different meaning, actually more popular than the real one: al fresco in Italy is synonymous with jail, prison, referring to the fact that once prison cells were not heated.

Who is a Bimbo?

In Italy, the word bimbo means baby, toddler, young child. This Italian word became familiar in the US at the beginning of the XX century, but it’s around 1910 that, for unknown reasons, it acquired the meaning of a beautiful woman, usually blonde and curvaceous, completely shallow and unintelligent. Nowadays, with the word bimbo, you also mean a woman very enthusiastic about breast augmentation and facelifts.

Confetti: paper or sweets?

In Italy, you are offered white sweet 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 bits of coloured paper to be thrown during parades, weddings, and other happy celebrations, we don’t really know. In Italy, those tiny bits of paper are called coriandoli, and they are used during Carnival.

What is Italian Peperoni

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. 

Careful ordering a latte

If you are in Milan or in Rome and you are dying for a latte, do not go into 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.

Italian panini

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 the US and UK, instead, panini are grilled sandwiches made with two slices of a bread loaf and filled with so many sauces and different kinds of meat that they have nothing to share with typical Italian panini.

Stilettos in Italy

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 shoes. 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.

Which kind of prosciutto?

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, only produced around Parma. There are at least 25 other types of prosciutto crudo.

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08 aprile 2024
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