Pronouncing and using words correctly in Italian is a challenging but necessary skill to acquire when learning the language. A misplaced or a mispronounced letter can entirely change the meaning and botch what you’re trying to say. I saw this first hand when one night at aperitivo. My ragazzo americano wanted to order the classic Italian before dinner cocktail called a “negroni.” Unfortunately for him, he very politely and very seriously asked our waitress instead for a “negrone” a very derogatory term for a large black man. In the end, over hysterical tears of laughter, he did manage to get the drink he wanted and escaped with only a slightly bruised ego. We still laugh about this today and really we’ve all been there; it is so easy to make these mistakes! Below I’ve compiled 5 (not entirely for polite company) easily mixed up words. You’ve been warned!
1. We all know and love penne pasta, but how many of us have inadvertently ordered penis pasta without even realizing it? In Italian, when there are two of the same consonants next to each other, the vowel before it is pronounced elongated. The difference can be tricky for non-native speakers to differentiate, but it is so very, very important. Remember, penne (pehhh-nay) is pen/pasta and pene (pen-ay) is penis!
2. You’re standing in Florence, admiring the view and the amazing red roofed buildings below. You turn to your friend and tell her you just adore the sight of these beautiful, magnificent, rooftops. But, what you didn’t realize is that instead of saying, tetti (roofs) you said tette (breasts). Congratulations on quickly becoming one of the most perverted people in Italy.
3. After a long day of sight seeing, you may need to fare un pisolino. This means to take a nap, but say the word pisolino incorrectly and instead of having a nap, you’re having/making or even worse, doing, a small penis. The difference is tiny (pun intended) and easy to make. Pisolino is nap and pisellino is a small pene.
4. The ever so dangerous anno and ano. Those double n’s are no joke. In Italian to express age, the verb avere (to have) is used, so if you forget to pronounce this word correctly you’re telling someone how many assholes you have, instead of years.
5. Scopare…I can best describe the double context of this word (which in it’s most innocent context means “to sweep”) with a story. In college, my Italian professor was demonstrating the importance of direct and indirect object pronouns and verb conjugation. She told us about when she was studying in Italy and participating in a homestay. The housemother had asked her what she would like to do around the house to help out. Lacking the words, she went into her room to consult her dictionary and came back intending to proclaim that she could “sweep the floors.” When my professor returned to the kitchen, the house mother was gone but the house father was there in her place. Enthusiastically, she walked up to him and said, “Mi scopa!” He spit out his coffee, turned red and quickly left the room. Later that day the housemother, choking back laughter, explained that my instructor had inadvertently just invited her 80-year-old house father to make dirty, naughty, Italian love.
Have you ever made these mistakes or others? Fess up below!
(Photo credit: Phyllis Buchanan)