Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

Lost in translation – 5 Italian words that don’t work so well in English

In an age where we can get translations from almost any language simply by typing a phrase into a search engine, you’d think the age of miscommunication was over. It’s not always so. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t find the right way to effectively translate the richness or nuance of a word or phrase. Sometimes, when faced with using an awkward translation, an Italian will just drop the Italian word into an English sentence, often to bemused glances.

Just so you can enjoy them in their native glory, here are five Italian words that lose much of their charm or power when translated into English. In Italian, the intended meaning changes depending on the tone of voice used.

Much like the word ‘NOT!’ as used in Wayne’s World (“I love your sweater...NOT”) anzi is used at the end of a sentence to say ‘on the contrary’. Though a literal translation, ‘on the contrary’  is clumsy and overly long by comparison.

Meaning “again, one more time” or “so far” ancora can be a confusing word, as depending on the context, it is also used to mean “it’s not time yet”.

Used to utter the notion of both “maybe” , “if only” and “I wish”, magari is a word that’s part desire, part consideration and part playful humor.

Literally, pazienza means “have patience”. But when used in many sentences, it really means “whatever” / “what will be, will be” and “go with the flow”.

Sveglia / Sveglio
Another odd word with no real literal translation. It can mean “awake” or “alert”, “switched on” or “with it”, some of which are pretty subjective and rule out the closest literal translation “clever” as being apt.