Illustration by Mary Delaney
Ahó! (A Roman greeting, like ciao or buongiorno)
Dante called it Il più turpe di tutti i volgari italici (the most contemptible of all spoken Italian vernaculars) but there is a rare beauty to this highly creative dialect. Next time you are in Rome, why don’t you do as the Romans do and speak the local lingo? Here are 7 everyday expressions to get you started.
It literally means “Kill!” and it’s not clear where the word comes from. Some say it derives from the Italian word mazza, which means a club or a bat — instruments to commit the perfect kill. Another, less probable, source maintains that it comes from the plebeians’ bloodthirsty cry during a gladiatorial combat at the Colosseum. If any of the above explanations gave you the shivers, you will be happy to know that it’s not all blood and gore in Rome. Today, ammazza is used to denote admiration or surprise, similar to how we would use “wow!” or “goodness,” in English: “Ammazza, quanto mangi!” (Goodness, how much you eat!). You may also hear it as “ammappa.”
From the Latin buris, which means plow beam, the word burino was reserved for non-Romans and especially those who lived and worked in other parts of Lazio doing agricultural jobs. Today, it is used to describe someone rude and uncultured. “Ma che burino sei?!” (How are you such a lout?!)
This is another word with a similar meaning to burino and a rather interesting etymology. It derives from the obsolete German term butzen — which is where the German word putzen (to clean) comes from. At first, it was used to describe itinerant workers from Switzerland who visited Rome in the winter to clean the streets or sell chestnuts. Today, it is used to describe someone uncouth and ill-mannered. “Ma ‘sto buzzuro, chi è?” (But, who is this lout?)
This is the Roman equivalent of dai, which means “come on” and it’s a common everyday expression that carries many different meanings. It can mean “well done,” as well as “yay!” and “hurrah!” and even a simple “yes.”
- Che famo oggi, Giulia, annamo ar mare? (What shall we do today, Giulia, shall we go to the sea?)
- Daje. (Sure.)
It can also mean, “hurry up” — “Cosa aspetti? Daje!” (What are you waiting for? Hurry up!) — or “Let’s go” (like forza in Italian). Say Daje Roma! (Go Roma!) to cheer on the local football team.
Another variation of it is aridaje, which means “again.” This variation is said with more annoyance or irony, like: “Aridaje, con ‘sta storia!” (Again, with this story, stop it!)
5. Li mortacci tua.
Drive through Via del Corso during the busy hours and you are bound to hear li mortacci tua, mortacci tua or even ‘tacci tua thrown around. It loosely translates as “a curse on your ancestors” (the use of the –acci suffix denotes contempt and disapproval in Italian). This curse goes back to ancient Roman times when ancestors were worshipped and treated with maximum respect. While it can sometimes be used in a comical manner to express surprise, “Li mortacci tua, ma quanto hai vinto?” (You lucky bastard, how much did you win?), or indignation, “Mortacci!” (Damnit!) — it’s still a rather heavy insult.
6. Ma va a magnà er sapone!
It literally means “go eat the soap!” but it’s a colloquial way to express incredulity or tell someone to go take a hike:
- “Sai che conosco a regina Elisabetta? Penza un po’ che l’artra vorta m’ha invitato a magna’ a casa sua.” (Did you know I know Queen Elizabeth personally? The other day she invited me for dinner.)
- “Ma va a magna’ er sapone, va.” (Get out of here!)
Other ways to express incredulity in Romanesco: “Ma che stai a dì!” (What are you talking about?)
- “Mario e Carlo non si parlano più.” (Mario and Carlo are not talking to each other anymore.)
- “Ma che stai a dìììììì!” (What are you talking about? I can’t believe it!)
Or, “ma che davero, davero?” (But really, really?!)
- “Ma sai che m’ hanno chiesto 3 piotte pe’ rifa’ a machina?” (Did you know they asked for 300 Euros to repair the car?!)
- “Ma che davero, davero?” (Really?)
And while I am here, I should mention that piotta in Romanesco used to be 100 Lire, but today it means 100 Euros.
Reserved only for those who come from Trastevere in Rome, it derives from the words noi altri (we others) as opposed to voi altri (you others) who come from all other districts of Rome. Admittedly, it is not a very common Roman expression, but you might be interested to know that the Festa de Noantri takes place every year from July 16 to 30 in Trastevere, and it’s a religious feast that dates back to 1535 in honor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
BONUS: A quick Romanesco grammar lesson
You may have noticed by now that Romans follow their own grammatical rules when it comes to speaking their dialect. If you want to sound like a true Roman, here’s what else you need to do:
- Cut the last syllable of verbs in the infinitive form. In Roman, it is not parlare, it is parlà; it is not dire, it’s dì; it’s not fare, it’s fà. You get the idea.
- Leave off the beginning of some words too. It is not uno, it’s ‘no; it’s not andiamo, it’s ‘nnamo. It is not una birra, it is ‘na bira (with one r) . It is not questa storia, it’s ‘sta storia.
- Replace the letter l with r, so you should say er sapone, instead of il sapone; say ar mare, instead of al mare. In fact, according to the grammatical rules of er romanesco, when the letter l precedes a consonant in a word, it is written with an r in Romanesco. Soldi becomes sordi and calcio becomes carcio.
- Change words with ng to gn, like magno instead of mangio.
Finally, the verb essere or èsse is conjugated like this: sò, sei , è, semo, sete, sò.
Allora, te piace er romanesco o no?