Mistakes are an unavoidable and vital part of the language-learning process. Sometimes you make little errors of gender or agreement that might make your Italian amico flinch a little. Other times it comes down to a confusion of tense or conjugation which befuddle the listener. And then there are the times where you make such an embarrassing clanger that you’re met with uproarious laughter — and it’s this final category that we’ll focus on now. Here are some of the most common embarrassing mistakes Italian learners make — so you can avoid them!
Disclaimer: Embarrassing statements are often very rude (even if they are inadvertent). The following phrases are not for the easily offended!
1. Sono caldo
What you think you’re saying: I’m hot
What you’re really saying: I’m horny
What you should say: Ho caldo (lit. I have warmth)
You’re recumbent on the beach in Sicily, rapidly turning a radiant red, when you decide it’s high time you commented on how very warm it is. You turn to your amico and say, “Sono caldo,” at which he erupts into laughter. You’ve just stated in a disarmingly matter-of-fact way that you’re horny. Take a cold shower, calm yourself down, and learn the appropriate way to say you’re hot: Ho caldo.
2. Sono eccitato
What you think you’re saying: I’m excited
What you’re really saying: I’m horny
What you should say: Sono emozionato
Well done, you’ve successfully cleared up the confusion regarding ho caldo and sono caldo and you valiantly continue the conversation. You claim you’re eccitato about seeing your friends this evening and once again you’re met with a guffaw. Eccitato has a sexual connotation in Italian, so we recommend you plump for the adjective emozionato instead. Try not to get carried away!
3. Ho 25 ani
What you think you’re saying: I’m 25 years old
What you’re really saying: I have 25 anuses
What you should say: Ho 25 anni (lit. I have 25 years)
This little trap is lying in wait for you in both Spanish and Italian. Mispronounce the word for “year,” or anno, and you could find yourself exclaiming that you have a quite remarkable number of orifices. Remember to enunciate both the first and second N, and to replace the -o with an -i for the Italian masculine plural.
What you think you’re saying: Pen
What you’re really saying: Penis
What you should say: Penna
We English speakers are often quite lazy with pronunciation. We swallow consonants and we often flatten vowels. You can’t really afford to do this in Italian, because a different vowel can lead to a word having a very different meaning. Take the words pene and penna for example. One slip of the tongue and instead of referring to an innocent writing implement, you’re referring to the male reproductive organ. Oops!
What you think you’re saying: Preservatives
What you’re really saying: Condoms
What you should say: Conservanti
The old joke is that you add an -o or an -a to the end of an English word to transform it into a Italian one. Well, the word preservativo is proof that this tactic can backfire spectacularly. Ask for some food senza preservativi and you’ll be asking for your dinner without condoms. If you really want to avoid the E-numbers, you’ll have to say senza conservanti.
What you think you’re saying: To sweep
What you’re really saying: To screw
What you should say: Pulire
You innocently want to talk about how much you dislike sweeping when your flatmate cracks up. For some strange reason, the verb scopare is commonly used as a colloquial expression for the act of sexual intercourse, even if dictionaries list it as the translation for to sweep. As such, you’re better off using the generic verb for to clean: pulire.