#47: Seven phrases Italians use when things go wrong

7 phrases Italians use

Italians are an expressive bunch, and what they don't say with their hands they can express very well with a couple of carefully selected syllables. 

Here are just seven of the sorts of phrases Italians use to express everything from mild surprise to outright disgust. 

1. 'Urca!'

A charming cross between ‘golly’, ‘gosh’ and ‘yikes’.  Only used in the Northern regions of the country (mostly Milan really). Elsewhere it’s hideously out of fashion. You might use this to convey sorrow over something small and inconsequential, like if you drop something small on your toe or if a small child falls over. 

2. 'Oddio!'

Literally, ‘Oh God’. Used to convey surprise or disbelief. Situations which call for the term include ‘Oddio! I forgot to take the chicken out of the oven' or ‘Oddio! He has had a lot of plastic surgery and has now ruined his face’. 

3. 'Mamma Mia!' 

Italians really do say this. In fact, it's one of the most commonly used interjections in the Italian language because it covers such a broad spectrum of emotion;  everything from shock and horror, to wonder and surprise, to dismay. Just don’t kiss your hands at the same time as you say it like they do in the Dolmio advert. They’ll just think you’re taking the piss. Common usages include ‘Mamma Mia! Haven’t you gotten fat!’ or ‘Mamma Mia! This is a long queue'. 

4. 'Mannaggia!' 

PronouncedmaNNAGG’. Polite vulgarity like ‘dammit’, ‘blast’ and ‘bugger’, used to convey annoyance, frustration and dismay. You might use this in situations such as (but not limited to): when you can't find the TV remote, when your mother won't get off the phone or when you get to the supermarket at 1.30pm and remember it’s closed for siesta time until 5pm. 

‘Mannaggia a Me’, translates as ‘damn me’. A useful phrase for cursing yourself for being so forgetful or for telling yourself off for being silly. 'Mannaggia a Te' is a little ruder, most commonly muttered under people’s breath to convey annoyance but equally a desire to avoid a full-blown confrontation. 

5. 'Madonna Mia!' 

Used to express shock, bewilderement and consternation. Bit ruder than Mamma Mia (anything involving the Virgin Mary is always taken a bit more seriously). Must be drawn out to express real frustration, ‘Madooooona’ or sometimes just reduced to ‘madonnnn’.

6. Mannaggia plus (insert word of choice)

Generally, in Italy, if you add a noun to any curse word, it makes it a lot ruder. I have heard the word ‘mannaggia’ paired with everything from ‘prostitute’ to ‘your mum’ to ‘God’. I’ve also heard a lot of strange combinations like ‘Mannaggia Cristopher Colombo’ and, my own personal favourite, ‘Mannaggia la cappa tuoi’, which means ‘damn your cap!’ An opportunity for you to get creative. 

7. Porco plus (insert word of choice)

Italians are curiously creative when it comes to responding to offensive people or situations. Putting the word ‘porco’ (literally, pig) in front of any word immediately makes it extremely offensive. Classic combinations include 'Porca Vacca' (Pig Cow) and 'Porca Miseria' (Pig Misery), but once you start getting Virgin Mary, God and the Pope involved, it all gets a bit rude and should be used with caution. Fully acceptable, however, to shout this when you stand on a plug with bare feet.

Trying to blag your way to sounding Italian? These ten phrases will make you sound like a total boss.