Brioche and 7 other English words with surprising meanings in Italy

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The following is a an example of a Holidays blog post:


“Ecco le sue brioche” (“here are your brioches”), the baker said, handing me a paper bag with my order.

“No, croissants”, I said.

“Si, brioche”, he said, nodding.

Frustrated because I couldn’t remember how to say “I ordered croissants, not brioches” in Italian, I opened the bag to reveal two fresh and crispy croissants. The baker didn’t get my order wrong: brioche means “croissant” in northern Italy.

More than 10 years down the road, I still love croissants and I still tend to be quizzical when I hear an English word with a different meaning in spoken Italian.

Here are a few common English words you will hear often if you move to Italy. You might think you know what these words mean in your home country, but when you’re in Italy, you’ll be expected to use them in an exotic way, as the Italians do.

Beauty

If your Italian girlfriend asks if you’ve seen her beauty, because she can’t remember where it is, she’s not trying to be philosophical. She’s asking if you’ve seen her makeup purse.

Box

When you rent an apartment in Rome or Milan, look for one with a box if you want a secure parking place. In Italy, a box is a small garage that usually fits a single car (yes, a real-size car) and nothing else. The Italians use the word garage, not box, for a proper garage, where you can park your car, as well as store your boxes, bikes, and tools.

Water

Something that’s thrown in the water in Italy ends up flushed down the toilet, as water (pronounced vater) is the word for “toilet”. The Italian word for “water” is acqua.

Pile

You’re going skiing in the Dolomites, at Cortina d’Ampezzo, and a friend tells you to bring a good pile. What do you pack? A good fleece jacket. But it can’t hurt if you pack a pile of cash instead.

Footing

Meeting an Italian passionate about footing is not as rare as meeting an Italian passionate about extreme ironing. If your roommates ask you if you’d like to go footing with them, they’re only asking if you’d like to go jogging.

Tilt

If your Italian co-worker’s PC has gone in tilt (literal translation of andato in tilt), it didn’t physically tilt. Usually rebooting the machine fixes the problem. And if your boss says she went in tilt (andata in tilt) while giving a presentation to a client, she didn’t trip and fall; she experienced a brain freeze.

Plumcake

What’s a plumcake without a plum? A loaf cake in Italy. The classic recipe for Italian plumcake has no plums or other type of fruit. But I often add plums when I bake plumcakes—just because I’m a stickler for words (and because the dried plums in my pantry always seem to outlive their expiry date, and I hate wasting food).


Cristina N.

I have a background in geology engineering and a keen interest in science, nature, and traveling. Before becoming a professional editor and writer in 2012, I worked as an academic researcher for seven years and earned a PhD in earth sciences from Cardiff University, UK. I like...

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