How To Understand Italian Slang

After learning basic, grammatically correct Italian, it's important to also learn some slang. Most languages have a ton of slang, and Italian is no exception. Today I'll just discuss a few fun little Italian slang words.


If you see it written, in context, this one's not too hard to figure out. The n and g are reversed. But it's not just a typo, they really say "man-ya" in their slang, and it sounds different enough from "man-ja" that it won't be obvious if you hear it.

Se magna = I'm eating.

la pappa

Whether you hear it spoken or see it written, the first inclination with this word is to understand it as "father", or perhaps as "the Pope". Neither of those is even close. If you look for a translation of the word "pappa", you'll find "jelly", and that's not it either. La pappa is slang for dinner.

Vado a fare la pappa = I'm going to make dinner.

la nanna

If I thought "la pappa" was "father", it's easy to understand why I thought "la nanna" was "mother". Actually, at first I mistook it for "grandmother". And once again, that's not even close. La nanna means sleep, and it comes from "ninna nanna" which means lullabye.

Vado a fare la nanna = I'm off to bed.


Yeah, it's easy to see that this word probably means "accident", and I'm guessing that's where it came from. However if you hear someone exclaim accidente! they're not talking about an accident. It's acctually a light curse.

Accidente! = Damn!

cosa fai di bello

Literally, this phrase asks "what are you doing that's nice?" But that's far too literal and it misses the point. This is actually just a handy greeting, much like "what's up?" in English.

Cosa fai di bello? = What are you up to?

un sacco

"Un sacco" is a bag, or a sack, and it's just a word that is used to mean "much" or "many", in much the same way as we use the phrases "a bunch" or "a lot" in English. This term un sacco is very common.

Un sacco di cose = a bunch of things.


"Madò" is short for "Madonna", also known as Mother Mary. The exclamation Madò is used in much the same way that an English speaker might use "Jeez!"

Madò, questa pioggia! = Jeez, what's with this rain?


And finally, the word "però" literally means "but". However però is a very common exclamation of disbelief.

Hai vinto una macchina? Però! = You won a car? No way!

That's just the tip of the iceberg, there are many more slang expressions in Italian, but these are all very common and understanding them is a great start.

Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.

Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

Leave a comment:

Comment Policy: Comments and feedback are totes welcome but respect is mandatory. Disagree all you want but be nice. All comments and links are moderated.
  • So are cursewords next? :D

  • I'm not going to focus on cursewords, but a few may find their way into my posts. :)

  • Accidenti is even less strong than "damn", its more of a "darn" or "oh gosh". I hear it used a lot in children's television.

  • -Maresciallo! Correte presto, ci hanno rubato la macchina!
    -Accidenti, avete visto chi è stato?
    -No però abbiamo preso il numero di targa

  • Ah, cool.

  • Hahaha!

  • I would go so far as to differentiate between idiomatic expressions and slang, and pretty much disregard slang, since it's much more temporary than idioms.(Most of the examples you've given are idioms, BTW.)

  • I may be wrong, but I think "idiom" is a word that is really only known to linguists, and the difference between and idiom and a slange expression is completely meaningless to anyone lacking that academic interest in language usage. Hence my choice of the word "slang".However, I think you're right that these are more likely idioms.

  • Hiya!
    love this page, but hope you won't mind a little clarification."Pappa" is a cute, affectionate word used only for baby meals, or meals for small children/babies, at any time of the day. It refers to the act of eating, rather than the time of the day. An adult would hardly refer to their meal as "pappa".
    Same for "nanna", usually used for children and babies.
    Please don't hate me, but "accidenti" is spelled with an "i" at the end. Accidente has a different meaning, although I can understand why it may seem the same word. I once had to show my italian dictionary to a friend that woudln't believe "grazie" to be spelt with a "e" at the end!=)

Want to learn a language in 12 months?

Language you're learning...