The Italian language includes some English words used with a different meaning but also words that Italians think are English when actually they are not.
One of the funniest things about my work is chatting with people and laughing with them about words with different meanings or uses, depending on the language.
When I chat with my English-speaking students, it is always fun to answer the question: “how do I translate this?” with the same English word, just pronounced in the Italian way.
It is even funnier with false friends because people think they are saying something with a specific meaning and then they burst out laughing when I tell them that the meaning is completely different – and I think they will never forget it as this kind of mistakes really stick in your head.
I will probably write a proper post about false friends and common mistakes English natives do when speaking Italian because I think it can be really useful, as I see repetitive patterns and similar errors. This time, though, I want to focus on a slightly different topic.
In this post, I want to list some of the most common English – or fake English – words that are used in Italian with a completely different meaning. I am sure that reading it will be fun and helpful at the same time.
Let’s dive in and see what this English words used in Italian with a whole new meaning are, shall we?
Mister – This word in English is a title for a man, the complete form of the title Mr, while in Italian it refers to the coach of a sports team, usually referred to as il Mister.
Smoking – In English smoking is the action of smoking a cigarette or a pipe, while we use it in Italian with a completely different meaning: lo smoking is the tuxedo or dinner jacket [Update: I have been told of the existence of the smoking jacket, which is an overgarment designed to be worn while smoking tobacco, usually in the form of pipes and cigars. The dinner jacket evolved from that].
Flipper – Quoting the Cambridge dictionary, flipper in English is “one of two parts like arms on the bodies of some sea creatures, such as seals and penguins, used for swimming”. Well, in Italian it is the pinball machine!
Golf – While in English this is just the name of the sport, in Italian this word has another meaning as well. In Italian, il golf is also a light sweater or a jumper. It is a bit old-fashioned word but still widely used. It usually refers to men sweaters, while the ladies’ one is il golfino, a light sweater worn in spring or autumn.
Footing – Thank God this word is hardly ever used in Italian anymore because all Italians thought it was the English way of saying jogging while it is not. So fare footing in Italian meant to go jogging but somehow the mistake has been cleared and nobody uses this expression anymore – I hope.
Tight – In English, this adjective refers to something held or kept together firmly or closely, while in Italian it is a very elegant suit, the one you are supposed to wear at very refined weddings. Grooms usually wear this kind of suit, which has grey trousers and a darker jacket.
Pullman – I have recently discovered that pullman in English refers to a luxury railway carriage, especially one for sleeping or eating in, while in Italian il pullman is just a coach or a bus.
Slip – In English, to slip is a verb which basically means to slide – it also has other figurative meanings but always remains a verb. In Italian, instead, slip is a piece of underwear, like panties or briefs, but mostly refers to briefs. [Update: I have been told that slip in American English is also a woman’s undergarment, usually worn with a dress].
Spider – This word in English describes the small creature with long legs that catches creatures on a web, while in Italian it refers to something definitely more pleasant: la spider is the roadster or the cabriolet.
Shopper – As far as I know, shopper means someone who buys things from a shop or a cart that you can use to carry the items you bought. In Italian – and it is quite of a new word, which came out quite recently – la shopper is the canvas or plastic bag you use to carry the things you purchase.
Fiction – This is an English noun that refers to a book or story written about imaginary characters and events, not based on real people and facts, while in Italian la fiction is a TV series, a series created especially for the television (for example, those on Netflix are not fiction, they are called serie).
Scotch – In English, this either refers to the liquor produced in Scotland or to the verb that means to prevent something from being believed or being done, while in Italian lo scotch is just the Scotch tape or any adhesive tape in general – sometimes it is used to refer to the liquor as well but it is quite rare.
Box – We all know what it means, right? Well, in Italy we have a brand new meaning for this English word that basically defines a container: in Italian, il box is the garage, the closed area where you park your car.
Bloc-notes – Here comes a word we have completely invented, believing that it was English. In the Italian language, this fake English word means a paper notepad or notebook. Probably, it is just an anglicization of the Italian blocco note, which means exactly the same.
Cotton fioc – But there isn’t just one fake English word in the Italian language. Cotton fioc is another made-up word that we all think is English when it is not. It means cotton bud, that short stick with some cotton at each end that you use to clean your ears.
Stage – This is a word we imported from French but for a long time we thought it was English, so we pronounced it in the English way (exactly like the area where actors in theatre perform). Nowadays, it seems that the pronunciation error is fixed, thank God. What does it mean? It means internship or apprenticeship.
Living – In English, this word refers to the act of being alive, of existing, of having a life. Well, in Italian, we have il living, which is the living room or the sitting room, it could also be an open space area that includes the kitchen as well.
Feeling – We all know what to feel in English means, right? Well, the feeling is an emotion, an opinion, an awareness, something you feel inside yourself. In Italian, feeling means chemistry between two people – we usually say c’è feeling referring to the fact that two people are attracted or get along very well.
Trash – This was a last minute addiction because I realized I used it – wrongly, even if I knew it was wrong – in an English conversation. In English, trash is something you throw away, rubbish in British English, or something of a very bad quality, while in Italian trash is an adjective that means tacky.
Do you know other fake English words or words used in Italian with a different meaning? I’d love to hear your stories!
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