The beautiful story of 5 Italian words

Words convey a culture and sometimes translation falls short in representing the full spirit of a word. Words have a history, an origin (etymology), they acquire new meanings (semantic change) and they also die sometimes (therefore becoming obsolete). What makes a word beautiful? There is no scientific criteria underlying it, but we can say that generally it is either because of its meaning or because of its sound. Here follows a list of 5 Italian words you will fall in love with for one reason or another:


Pronounced /fanchullo/ and not /fankulo/ (spelled fanculo): that would mean something completely different. This word translates into “child” and “young boy” but says much more, as Italian has a more generic term both for “child”, bambino, and for “young boy”, ragazzo. The word fanciullo is nowadays used in elevated and literary contexts. The beauty in it resides in the sense of innocence that it conveys. And if you want to make this word even more beautiful, you can add a diminutive suffix and have fanciullino.


/stirakkiarsi/: say it aloud and you will feel your tongue slowly stretching towards every corner of your mouth, one sound after the other. That is exactly the meaning of the word: to stretch, but in a lazy and slow way.  You can also use its variant, sgranchirsi; if you have a big traditional meal, after it you can suggest to your friends to go for a walk to “sgranchirsi le gambe”.


This word sounds so nicely: /chanfrusalye/. It is
onomatopoeic as its pronunciation reminds of the noise of all the fripperies, the unnecessary things that we have. You can buy cianfrusaglie but you can also say cianfrusaglie, i.e. silly and useless things: “Non dire cianfrusaglie!


This word is both scientific, related to chemistry and the level of soluble salts, and more poetic. It is used to evoke the image of the sea and its attached memories of summer holidays. The English translation “salt” or “saltiness” does not seem to convey the same sensations: the smell of the sea, the way your hair looks after being dried under the sun, the little white dust on your skin. Quoting from a famous Italian song: “Sulle labbra tue dolcissime / un profumo di salsedine / sentirò per tutto il tempo / di questa estate d’amor” (“On your sweet lips / the perfume of salt / I will taste all the time in this summer filled with love”).


This is a must-know word if you drive in Italy. /sdrucholevole/: if you pay attention to the movements of your tongue while pronouncing this word, you will have the feeling it is slipping and falling over on a surface. No surprises then in learning that it means slippery. Every time it rains and you are behind the wheel, be careful as “la strada è sdrucciolevole”. If you do manage to say this word aloud, then you can also manage to drive home safely.

These are just a few cases among the wonders of the Italian words. Which other Italian words have melted your heart? Write them in the comments below!



You might also like:

27 thoughts on “The beautiful story of 5 Italian words”

Comments are closed.