Speak like an Italian: words we borrow from Italy

dolce vita fellini movieItalian phrases: That’s a poster from Federico Fellini’s 1960 classic film, left, “La Dolce Vita” (which means literally “sweet life”), gave the English language not one but two popular expressions.

Italian has given the English-speaking world so many wonderful words and phrases. Here are a few of them and their origins.


This word was coined by Italian director Federico Fellini for his 1960 film La dolce vita. One of the photographers that follows the main characters around Rome is named Paparazzi.

dolce vita

That’s another expression we owe to Fellini. Many think it refers to the easy life when in fact for Fellini it meant life’s indomitable sweetness.


This word comes from 16th-century Venetian dialect. Literally, it means servant. Back then, the Venetians greeted and bid one another farewell by saying I am your humble servant. In America, it’s used to say good-bye. But in Italy, it’s used for hello and good-bye (note that ciao is used only as an informal address; it should never be used in a formal or professional setting. In other words, don’t say ciao when you walk into a shop or restaurant in Italy).


Fiasco means flask in Italian. No one really knows how it came to mean a failure but it’s believed to come from the world of theater, where a fiasco denotes a mistake or break down in a performance.

These are just a handful of the many words and expressions we borrow from Italian.

What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comment section and we’ll follow up with a post on their origins and meanings.

Image: “La Dolce Vita (1960 film) coverart” by www.moviegoods.com. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of La Dolce Vita via Wikipedia.

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