Soccer-inspired vocab

Soccer, “pallone” is the national sport and a national obsession every four years when the World Cup comes around. Ever since Silvio Berlusconi co-opted the hurtling cry “Go Italy” (Forza Italia) for his political party and peppered speeches with increasingly sporty metaphors (“scendere in campo” is another favorite) Italians have become a little more shy of using soccer terms in daily life. Here are some that continue to stick around.

More on everyday language? Try the Dictionary of Italian Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Term Rough Translation/Use

(salvarsi in) calcio d’angolo

Saved with a corner kick. Used outside soccer to mean saved at the last minute, saving a situation with a less risky solution. "Ti perdono. Comunque ti sei salvato in calcio d’angolo con il complimento successivo.." I forgive you — you saved yourself with a corner kick thanks to that last compliment.



Scoring for the other team. Fare autogoal = make a stupid mistake, bite one’s own tail.

(nel) pallone

Literally in the ball. Often mistaken as similar to "on the ball" in English, in Italian it means confused, muddled. Avere la testa nel pallone = have one’s head in the clouds, sick with a head cold, or generally out of it. "Suo marito aveva la testa nel pallone. Non riusciva a prendere una decisione." Her husband was in a muddle, he couldn’t make a decision.
fischio d’inizio Kick off. Used also for meetings conventions etc. "Il meeting quest’anno è stato fatto all’ombra del campanile di Paderno del Grappa; un centinaio di persone sono in attesa del fischio d’inizio." This year’s meeting was held in the shadow of the belltower in Paderno del Grappa; hundreds were waiting for the official kick-off.
scendere in campo


Literally take to the field, throw one’s hat in the ring, take action. Used by many, considered a Berlusconi trademark.

serie B


B series, A series is the professional league. Used to mean second rate. "Cittadini di serie B" second-class citizens, another one used by Berlusca.

(sbagliare un) calcio di rigore


Penalty kick. Missing the penalty kick is making a banal mistake, not being able to meet one’s objectives for silly reasons.

palla lunga e pedalare


Keep the ball rolling and run. Keep going,

cartellino giallo

Literally yellow card — when a foul is committed it’s the first warning. Sometimes used to describe foul play or a warning in general. "Ha ricevuto il cartellino giallo dal giudice." The judge gave him a yellow flag.

fare dribbling To dribble — borrowed from the English basketball term but often used in soccer commentary (and everyday language) to mean fancy footwork. Antonella ha dribblato le domande dei giornalisti con un "no comment". Antonella dribbled the journalist’s questions with a "no comment."
(prendere in) contropiede Stealing the ball. When someone is caught unawares or unprepared. "Il premier israeliano ha posto una nuova condizione che ha, almeno apparentemente,preso in contropiede gli Stati Uniti e ha suscitato imbarazzo a Washington." The Premier of Israel made a new demand, which apparently caught the US unawares and embarassed Washington."
1-0 palla al centro 1-0 and the ball’s back in the center. Way of telling someone, succinctly, that you’ve just "scored" or are ahead of them, or that they owe you one.
(in) panchina On the bench. Someone who is out of action, standing on the sidelines. "E’ rimasta in panchina per tutta la riunione." She spent the whole meeting on the sidelines.

Surviving Italian Job Interviews

Italian business culture has some distinct national quirks as well as a series of rituals heavily borrowed from US business culture. These reflections about getting through interviews are fruit of staff’s collective experiences — of giving & taking “il colloquio di lavoro” in Italy.?1999-2004

Zoomata is the brainchild of a bilingualjournalist based in Italy who thinks out of the box. This brain is for hire.

A jarring difference for foreigners is the practice of getting "personal" — don’t be surprised by questions about your family, ethnic background or sentimental status. It’s considered part of "getting to know you" and also perfectly legal in the Bel Paese…More sophisticated interviewers will probably preface these by saying, "I know it’s not done in your country but here in Italy…" A way to get out of answering is to reply yes, you understand but would rather talk about business — and then ask a few questions about the company to change the course of the conversation.
Usually, it’s better to prepare a few standard phrases about where you’re from, what you’re doing in Italy, perhaps what your parents do (no comment). You don’t really have to tell your life story, just not give the impression of being rigid.

Conservative clothing (read: suit for both sexes) is still the safest way to dress, in more creative environments women can use funky accessories for a less standard look. Show up five minutes early, bring a copy of your CV and samples of your work, if relevant. Italians expect you to be punctual — though they may make you wait — and they do expect you to be prepared. If you have a cell phone — at the very least turn the ringer off. One company’s interview forms had a list where ‘points’ were taken off for these interview crimes…Remember to make eye contact, keep your composure but don’t remain overly stiff — better to show signs of life.

Sell yourself. Credentials speak for themselves, but a bit of measured bragging doesn’t hurt. After one interview candidate was caught out lying blatantly about knowledge of English — and it was duly noted on her interview sheet — the Italian HR director said, "We expect people to fib if not out and out lie."

If you don’t speak fluent Italian, at least use a hearty "buon giorno" hello followed up by a "piacere" (nice to meet you) with the handshake. When leaving, go for the formal "arrivederLa" or "la saluto," "arrivederci" for less formal environments but never "ciao." As for the rest of the questions, expect some stale-sounding "why do you want to work for this company?" and "what’s your worst fault?" "where do you see yourself in a few years" as well as the standard "is there anything you want to know about the company?" Be prepared.

On the first interview, avoid answering direct questions about money — a line like "I’m certain that if I’m the right person for this job we can work something out" usually works. If it looks like a good fit — take the offer home (most don’t expect you to make an immediate decision) and see how it sizes up with the salary survey (your experience, qualifications etc. and the company size, location etc.) on the site .

Here are some standard questions & approaches for those who wish to interview in Italian.

Reader’s experience: "Back in ’92 and in Rome, anyway, the interviewers seemed overly
preoccupied with where I lived and how long it was going to take me to get to work. Reliable transportation being what it is in Rome, this apparently was a
major concern for the legal office where I was applying to work as a receptionist. They quizzed me on my modes of transportation and what part of town I
lived in. Though I insisted I wanted the job so much that I would do whatever it took to arrive at work on time, it didn’t seem they believed me! Or maybe they were more familiar with the faults of their public transit system than I was. I also had a creepy experiences where the interviewer asked me very (!) personal questions, then took to calling me at home and asking me out "for coffee"! In hindsight, I would never again respond to a generic ad posted in Wanted in Rome or Porta Portese where the nature of the job was unclear!" Kindly contributed by Gina D.

Italian Rough Translation/Use
Mi parli di lei.

Tell me about yourself (all the questions are in formal form). What they expect: where you are from, why you are in Italy, how you started in your profession or recent job experiences. Be brief, but give a basic idea about who you are.

"Sono di Philadelphia, ma vivo in Italia da 3 anni. Sono venuto qui in vacanza e il vostro paese mi è piacuto tanto e quindi sono rimasto. Poi ho frequentato un corso di grafica e ho iniziato a lavorare per una piccola rivista."

"I’m from Philadelphia, but I’ve been in Italy for three years. I came on vacation and really liked your country so I stayed. (This carefully leaves out your marital status).Then I went to study graphic arts (name school) and started working for a small magazine name it)."


Qual’è il suo peggior difetto? What’s your worst fault? Honest answers aren’t expected — the important thing is to say something.
Safe answers: sono molto pignolo/a (I’m very detail oriented), pretendo molto da me stesso/a e anche dagli altri (I have high expectations for myself & others), privilegio il lavoro su tutto, anche sulla vita privata (Work takes precedence, even over personal life).
Ci sono stati episodi nel corso della sua vita in cui ha preso decisioni significative? Have there been times in your life when you had to make important decisions?
This is probably one of the few spots where a bit of honesty is good — but try to have that anecdote about when your car broke down & you became a bike messenger to deliver a client report on time ready..
Perché ha lasciato il suo precedente lavoro? Why did you leave your last job? Another relatively easy one — generically place the blame on lack of team work (mancanza di lavoro di squadra) works a lot better than telling about your hateful boss..
Cosa è importante per lei nella sua professione?

What is important to you, work wise? Another one to answer in an altruistic fashion.If you haven’t already used the team work bit above, do so now…


Questions for Interviewer  
Quali sono i principali obiettivi e le principali responsabilità di tale posizione? What are the main objectives and responsibilities for this job?
Quali sono gli ostacoli più comuni nel corso del raggiungimento di tali obiettivi? What are the most common obstacles to reach these objectives?
In che modo sono cambiati gli obiettivi aziendali negli ultimi 2-5 anni? How have the company’s objectives changed over the last 2-5 years?


Sending a telegram: how & what

Weddings, births, graduations, deaths: for important occasions, Italians send telegrams. Fortunately, the much-maligned national postal service has finally got its act together with a new Internet service that makes sending a telegram to the Italians in your life that much easier. You can send up to eight at a time, 24 hours a day, write in just about any language you like (Arabic and Mandarin characters are included) or choose from a set of ready-made Italian greetings for the occasion.
Just sign up for free at , click on "telegramma" and then "registrarsi." Choose "residente in Italia" (resident of Italy) or "residente all’estero" (resident outside Italy). The first page is a mile-long privacy/disclaimer, click on "conferma" to go to the registration page.

Once you’ve filled in your information, you’ll be sent a user name and password.
Our staff trial, sent in English, was a birth congrats of 5 lines which set us back about $5. Payment is by credit card over a secure server. Below are some prepackaged greetings, which are good to have on hand for cards, too. Auguri!

Marriage Translation E finalmente si sposarono e vissero insieme per sempre felici e contenti. Tanti auguri. And finally they married and lived happily ever after. Best wishes.

Finalmente dopo tanti anni vi siete decisi"era ora".adesso vi aspettano gli anni migliori. Baci e felicitazioni agli sposi!

After such a long time, you finally decided " it was about time." The best is yet to come. Kisses and best wishes to the happy couple!

In un giorno tanto felice ci uniamo al coro di chi vi augura un felice e sereno avvenire.

We add our voices to the chorus wishing you a happy and serene future.



Complimenti. Se il tasso di natalità ora è in rialzo è tutto merito vostro

Congratulations. If the national birth rate is up, it’s thanks to you.

Congratulazioni, finalmente potrete anche voi dormire poco di notte e imparare tutti i segreti del cambio del pannolino".Bacioni a tutti.


Congratulations, finally you, too can face sleepless nights and learn all the secrets of diaper changing. Kisses to all. E’ con enorme gioia che apprendiamo la bellissima notizia: i nostri più sentiti auguri affinché la stella della fortuna brilli sempre su di lei/lui. It is with enormous joy that we heard the fantastic news: our most heartfelt congratulations with the hope that fortune always shines on him/her. Graduation Translation E’ vero che gli esami non finiscono mai, però questa volta puoi prenderti una pausa. Complimenti While it’s true exams never finish, this time however you can take a break. Congratulations. Ora il mondo ha un laureato in più. E visto che il bello viene adesso, goditela ancora per un po’ e poi fammi sapere. Complimenti. The world has one more gradutate — and since the good part comes now, enjoy it for awhile and then let me know…Congratulations. Death Translation Di fronte a un dolore così grande non ci sono parole adeguate. Il suo ricordo vivrà con noi per sempre. There are no words to describe such profound pain. His memory will live on forever. Ti siamo vicini in un momento così difficile. Condoglianze. We’re close to you in this difficult moment. Condolences. Vi porgiamo le nostre più sentite condoglianze in un momento così tragico per la vostra famiglia e per tutti noi. We would like to give your our most heartfelt condolences in this tragic moment for your family and all of us.

Italy by Numbers: Survival of dialect

92.3% speak Italian + local dialect
44.1% speak Italian at home
72% speak Italian to strangers/acquaintances
More Italians than ever before use standard Italian to communicate, but local dialects remain the favored means for swearing and talking to family. According to ISTAT data for some twenty thousand Italian families, elderly remain the stronghold for dialect use: 65% of children prevalently speak Italian, while only a quarter of those over 65 do.
"The percentage of Italian speakers keeps growing," remarked linguist Tullio De Mauro "In comparison to the 1950S, when only one-third of the country could speak Italian, it’s a huge leap". Contrary to stereotypes, two Northern regions are the highest for only speaking in dialect, around 43 percent for both Trentino and the Veneto.

Related resources:
Learn Italian in Your Car
Jump start your language skills with this guide..

Italian for Mobile Phones

Around ten thousand SMS are sent daily in Italy — a figure that convinced the government to send out reminders to taxpayers via SMS.
Here’s a quick guide to everyday Italian for cell phone messages & how to send them for free.

Abbreviations How to use them Key Phrases Spelled out Watch out! Spelled Out
6=sei C 6 “Ci sei?” TVTB "Ti voglio tanto bene" quando TC metti 6 3mendo "Quando ti ci metti, sei tremendo"
x=per Xch? "perch??" dove 6 "Dove sei?" 6 tu che non vai bene x me "Sei tu che non vai bene per me"

mai +

"mai più"

quando non C6 mi sento Xso "quando non ci sei, mi sento perso" mi hai r8 "Mi hai rotto!"
8=otto scem8 “scemotto” + x me che x te "più per me che per te" Xnacchia "pernacchia"–virtual "raspberry"

How to send it:
Most major Italian portals offer free SMS service, keep in mind space is even tighter–125 characters per message. Don’t know what to say? Choose a message (love, jokes, greetings for special occasions etc.)
List of free internet SMS senders, with character counts

Kids to Adults: Please Use Better Italian

A group of elementary school students in Treviso has started a crusade to clean up the Italian used by journalists and officials. The fifth-graders, led by teacher Maria Cristina Andreola, have one main gripe: the incorrect use or lack of the subjunctive mood. Often one of the most difficult things to learn for students of Italian, the subjunctive (or congiuntivo) is used to express preference, desire, thought and hypothetical situations.

Under fire are linguistic clangers like: “I wish I was” instead of “I wish I were, ” pronounced on national television by public figures ranging from soccer coach Giovanni Trapattoni to ex anti-corruption magistrate Antonio Di Pietro and former Premier Massimo D’Alema.
As part of a homework assignment, students were asked to find examples of subjunctive use in newspapers and on television. "They’re finding errors everywhere, especially on television, but also a lot of incorrect use by family members." With the help of Andreola, the kids plan to start an Italy-wide campaign, tentatively called "S.O.S–Subjunctive." The class wrote a letter to local paper La Tribuna di Treviso asking journalists and officials to use the language more carefully.
The Accademia della Crusca (Crusca Academy), however, the national language academy of Italy and the oldest such institution in Europe, considers these errors only venial sins. "Even Dante, considered the father of modern Italian, didn’t always use it," commented Crusca president Francesco Sabatini.

Related resources:
Subjunctive or not? Try these excercises…

Take the Cheatmeter Test

The Italian preoccupation with cheating (colloquially known as “corna”) seems endless. A recent study of 500 cases of adultery conducted by the Italian branch of the International Society of Psychoanalysis discovered that Italian women are less vindictive–if their husband has an affair with an ‘incredibly beautiful’ woman. Husbands involved in trysts with ‘ordinary’ or ‘ugly’ women should watch out–apparently wives are likely to seek revenge. “If a husband loses his head for a stunner, wives are more willing to take a serious look at their own shortcomings or other problems in the relationship,” according to an unnamed expert in Italian daily Il Giorno. “Otherwise it’s like saying: how could you cheat with someone less attractive than I am?” Try out your Italian with this semiserious quiz –be forewarned that pessimism reigns…. Happy Valentine’s day! Il traditometro (Italian): Cheat-meter (Rough Translation):

1. Non lo perdoneresti mai, se lui ti tradisse:
a) con la tua migliore amica
b) con il suo migliore amico
c) con la vicina di casa


1. You’d never forgive him if he cheated on you
a) with your best friend
b) with his best friend
c) with the next-door neighbor

2. Pensi che lui ti tradirebbe…
a) per non perdere la sua fama da conquistatore
b) per sesso
c) per amore


2. You think he might cheat…
a) to uphold his reputation as a ladies’ man
b) for sex
c) for love

3. Secondo te, per lui il tradimento rappresenta…
a) un puro sfogo ormonale
b) qualcosa che bisognerebbe cercare di evitare
c) una forte mancanza di rispetto nei confronti della propria compagna


3. You think cheating is for him…
a) pure hormonal release
b) something to be avoided
c) demonstrates lack of respect for his partner

4. Ti confessa una scappatella. Tu…
a) gli cominci ad elencare le tue
b) lo perdoni, ma pensi subito a come fargliela pagare
c) lo lasci

4. He confesses a fling. You…
a) start counting off yours
b) forgive him, but immediately start thinking how to get even
c) leave him


5. Incominci ad avere sospetti se…
a) esce di casa per tre sere di seguito
b)assume una nuova segretaria e fa tardi la sera
c) inizia una cura dimagrante e si tinge i capelli

5. You start being suspicious if..
a) he goes out three evenings in a row
b) hires a new secretary and comes home late
c) goes on a diet and dyes his hair


6. Riappare dal passato una sua ex…
a) lui comincia a frequentarla assiduamente
b) te ne parla serenemente e ti propone di conoscerla
c) la considera una storia finita. Ora ama te.

6. An ex of his comes back on the scene…
a) he sees her regularly
b) he calmly mentions her & asks if you want to meet her
c) he considers it history. He loves you now.


7. Ti fa un regalo inaspettato:
a)pensi che debba farsi perdonare qualcosa
b) sei felice, ti piaccono le sorprese
c) hai paura di esserti dimenticata qualche rincorrenza

7. He gives you an unexpected gift:
a) he has something to hide
b) you’re happy, you love surprises
c) you worry you’ve forgotten an anniversary


Risultati: Il tuo lui è: Results: Your man is:

Maggioranze di risposte A: Gigolò

Se la natura dell’uomo è cacciatore, il tuo compagno dispone di un vero e proprio arsenale. Per lui la seduzione è una ragione di vita e la donna una preda da acciffare a qualsiasi costo. E’ vero che per amore si può arrivare ad accettare qualsiasi compromesso, ma sei sicura che il tuo sia proprio vero amore?

Mostly A: a Gigolo

If man is by nature a hunter, your partner has an arsenal at his disposal. Seduction is a way of life for him, women are prey to nab at any cost. While it’s true that love is worth any compromise, are you sure it’s really love?

Maggioranze di risposte B: Irrequieto

Tendenzialmente fedele, il tuo compagno vive però a volte problemi di conflittualità interiore. In parole povere, se dovesse capitargli l’occasione, difficilmente se la farebbe sfuggire. Stai quindi all’erta e non ti fidare mai delle apparenze.

Mostly B: Restless

Essentially faithful, your partner sometimes suffers from inner conflicts. To be frank, if the occasion comes along he’s not likely to let it get away. Stay alert and don’t ever trust appearances.

Maggioranze di risposte C: Fedele

Il tuo compagno è decisamente un tradizionalista. Il suo sogno è quello di vivere tranquillo, con una bella famiglia e tanti figli. Difficilmente ti tradirebbe perché verrebbe tormentato dai sensi di colpa.

Mostly C: Faithful

Your partner is definitely traditional. He dreams of a quiet life with a nice family made up of lots of kids. He’s unlikely to cheat because he would undergo the torment of a guilty conscience.

Related resources:
The one-stop portal for cheating, includes handy how-to guide.
Italy’s first cyber-alibi service for would-be Casanovas.

Preserving dialects–for insults

A new use for age-old dialects falling by the wayside: insults. “Without shame!”* was the affront hurled by teacher and author Marcello D’Orta at diet guru Alma Manuela Tirone on television. The case went to the Italian supreme court where D’Orta avoided heavy libel damages because judges reinforced the importance of dialectical expressions. “The use of strong and stinging expressions–even if objectively offensive– which represent a social reality worthy of attention such as dialects cannot and should not be punished, ” judges sentenced.
Insults in dialect from various Italian regions….

*"scurnacchiata." Dialect from Campania region, corresponds to "svergonata" in Italian.

An Italian Starter Kit for Euro Vocab

The new common currency ushers in a huge change for the new year, although both the euro and the lira will be valid in Italy until Feb. 2002. Foreigners used to the decimal system may find learning the vocab necessary for dealing with the new currency easy–the only real experience Italians have with these words are from Disney comic books, where terms like "cent" were translated directly into Italian. Just brush up on your numbers from 1-100….
We’ll keep you up to date on the euro-evolution of the language–so far use of the term "euri" got a ministerial degree into a still-unresolved dispute with Italy’s language academy…

Italian Translation/Use
l’euro name for the new currency, more common than euro dollar (euro dollaro).
Note: invariable…two euros==due euro
plural: gli euro
centesimo cent, plural: centesimi
5,16 euro

"cinque euro e sedici centesimi".
The equivalent of 10.000 lire or about $5.00. Note the comma: the Italian system works the opposite of the US –thousands get periods and hundreds get commas.


Con che cosa paga?

"What are you paying with?" (formal) has become the ubiquitous question at the cash register.
Until the end of February be prepared to answer:
bancomat (debit card)
carta di credito (credit card)

Everyday phrases: extinct?  
Non ho una lira. I don’t have a lira. These may simply be substituted with "centesimo."
Senza spendere un lira. Without spending a lira.
Cacciare una lira Fork out a lira.

Related resources:
Test your knowledge of Italian numbers with these interactive quizzes
Converts major world currencies into euro
Familiarize yourself with the new money before hand–remember the coins go up to 1 and 2 euro (about $1-2). One easy way to remember the bank notes if you’re a history buff, they start with architeture from classical times (five euro) and go up to the 20th century (500 euro).
Have a go at shopping for everyday items with the Italian treasury’s "spend in euro" game
A nursery rhyme honoring the ol’ lira…

Gifts, what to say when it all goes wrong staff wishes you a joyous holiday season–and hopes that no part of this dialogue is useful.
One quick, no-fail, supercheap gift idea for the Italophile on your list: dried lentils. Eaten in the New Year period, they’re said to bring money….Auguroni!
And, if your New Year’s Resolution is to improve your command of the language, try Italian in 10 Minutes a Day


Italian English
Ma che bel pensiero! What a lovely gift!
"Pensiero" lit. "thought" is also used to describe small gifts, or lack of reciprocity…"non ti preoccupare, il mio è solo un pensierino."

Non avresti dovuto!


You shouldn’t have!

Forse è solo un filino (grande) (verde) (orrido)


It’s just a tiny bit (big) (green) (awful)

Quasi quasi provo a riportarlo indietro…


Maybe I should take it back..

per vedere se ne hanno altri


and see if they have any left
che mi dici, hai ancora lo scontrino?

what do you say–do you still have the receipt?

(Italian stores usually require the receipt for returns–lo scontrino–better ask for it immediately)

E’ davvero un peccato, si capisce che erano andati a ruba..


It’s really a shame, apparently they were really popular…

così mi sono accontentato di questo.

so I had to settle for this instead..