The Genoese dialect is a variant of Ligurian, the local language spoken in Italy’s Liguria region. Although Genoese is only one of several variants found in Liguria, it remains the most prestigious and widespread. That’s why many of the Genoese words and phrases we’ll encounter in this article can also be considered Ligurian phrases.
As is often the case when it comes to regional dialects and languages, the boundaries can be very fluid. What we can be sure of is that both the Ligurian language and the Genoese dialect have very ancient roots, and Genoa’s historical importance over the ages has left traces of Genoese in many languages, including Italian.
In particular, many of the words Italian has borrowed from Genoese are maritime terms, including scoglio (“rock, cliff”), gassa (“bowline knot”), and bolentino (a type of fishing line). And Genoa’s history has seen its own language borrow from others in turn: darsena (“dockyard”) comes from Arabic (as do many Italian words), while travaggio (work) is derived from French.
In short, Genoese is a truly fascinating dialect with plenty of history behind it, which is why we chose to put together a list of our favorite Genoese words and phrases!
20 Genoese Phrases You Should Know
Manimàn (or manaman)
Manimàn essentially means “you never know,” sometimes used as a sincere warning (“you never know, you might get caught!”), but often as a sarcastic remark, like telling someone a bit lazy: “you never know, you might overdo it!” Either way, it denotes uncertainty: prendi l’ombrello, manimàn piove (“take an umbrella, you never know, it might rain”).
Perlengueuia (or perlengueuia)
Perlengueuia is a wicked curse, or the evil eye. Although its etymological origins are somewhat mysterious, it seems to derive from a verb meaning “to consume,” in the sense that the evil eye wears you down and consumes you bit by bit.
Ciattella refers to a “gossipy person,” and it can also be used as a verb. So when a bunch of friends in Genoa get together to dish, they say si ciattella. The literal meaning of ciattella is “crab”, as in a pubic louse, that particularly irritating insect that burrows away in the more intimate parts of the human body. So calling someone a ciatella in Genoa is not exactly a huge compliment.
Now we come to arguably the most famous Genoese word in Italy: belin. We could dedicate a whole article to this one little word, not only for its etymology but also for the multitude of Genoese phrases related to it. In any case, belin is the quintessential Genoese curse word: literally, it refers to the male sex organ, but it definitely has a huge variety of other applications. To name a few:
- A belin de can — poorly made
- Abelinàto — someone not very smart
- Belinare — to deceive
- Belinate — something very easy or something done clumsily
- Imbelinarsi — to trip over
- Imbelinare — to place something carelessly or to create confusion
- Me n’imbelino — damn (in an emphatic sense)
- Portâ via u belìn — to buzz off, to go away
- Tiâ o belìn — to make fun of
Among the most common Genoese words and phrases, you’ll also find a few false friends, including moccio. In Genoa, this isn’t a “booger” like it is in standard Italian, it’s a bun – as in tying your hair up behind your head.
You know that smell of eggs and fish that sometimes lingers on dishes, even after you’ve washed them? Well, the Genoese have a word for that: refrescumme, which is very similar to the Venetian term freschin.
Piscio e vegno
Out of all the Genoese phrases, this is probably the funniest. Don’t take it too literally (“I’ll pee and come back”)! This is actually how people in Genoa refer to…matchsticks, specifically the very long ones. That’s right: the ones so long you have enough time to light them, go to the bathroom and they’ll still be lit when you get back… An inspired phrase, no?
Rather than a derisive smirk or snigger — like ghigno in standard Italian — the Genoese ghignon is closer in meaning to “displeasure” or even “anger.” The term’s origin is Basque, one of the oldest languages in the world: another sign of the Genoese dialect’s cultural importance over the centuries and its many historical links to other languages and cultures.
No basta manco Maraggian
This curious phrase relates to a real-life historical figure: Edoardo Maragliano, a doctor who developed the tuberculosis vaccine. He was, among other things, an Italian senator, as well as a prominent figure in Genoa. Today, he’s immortalized in this expression. In Genoa, when you find yourself in financial trouble, you can say no basta manco Maraggian, implying not even the great Maragliano could have unraveled such a complex situation.
Gondon literally means “condom,” but in Genoese it refers to someone who — to put it nicely — isn’t very smart.
Essere nella bratta
In and around Genoa, bratta is the word for “mud.” So when someone is nella bratta, it means they’re in trouble or that something will be very tricky to obtain. For example: è bratta trovare i biglietti per quel concerto (“those concert tickets will be hard to get”).
Like so many idioms, cianin cianin can be used in different ways depending on the context. As an Italian speaker might be able to deduce, it means “slowly, slowly,” said either as a sage piece of advice, like to someone about to act rashly in an ugly situation, or sarcastically, like to someone who always takes things that little bit too easy.
In Genoese, a rebigo is a long, winding road, and the term can be used to describe a journey somewhere that was particularly tortuous.
Stereotypically speaking, the Genoese are a thrifty lot, a view that a number of Genoese phrases only seem to confirm: for example, tapullo refers to an improvised, quick-fix solution when something breaks and you don’t want to spend money on a new one. It also works as a verb (tapullare), meaning “to put a bandaid over something” in the figurative sense.
In standard Italian, an attaccabottone refers to a chatterbox; in Genoa, they say attacca pomelli. The latter has a more negative connotation though, closer in meaning to “windbag” or “blabbermouth.”
Yet another Genoese word that’s hard to take as a compliment: sciachelo refers to the type of people who are easily taken advantage of because they’re too trusting or naive.
These fried chickpea flour fritters are a must-have for anyone looking to try Genoese street food. But watch out: if you call someone this, it means you think they’re a gullible fool!
No list of Genoese phrases would be complete without that most iconic of words: gabibbo. Having been popularized by the satirical TV show Striscia la notizia, the term has a very curious history. It turns out gabibbo is how Genoese sailors referred to the longshoremen of a port in present-day Eritrea; it’s a corruption of Habib, a very common name in that region. Ever since, the term has been used to denote anyone not originally from Liguria.
If you know Gabibbo from Striscia la notizia, you’ve almost certainly heard him say besugo, which is the dialect term for a type of sea bream (pagellus bogaraveo) that’s also used in Genoa to refer to someone not too smart.
Sticking with the fish theme: the Genoese dialect has so many fish-related insults, loasso being one of the most famous. This is the local word for sea bass and represents yet another way to call someone a fool.