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Weird Things My Family Says

Reader discretion may be advised.

When you grow up with a big Italian family, you're exposed to a lot of volume, laughter, and weird family sayings. Now, try being out in the real world and finding yourself mumbling a bunch of gibberish every now and then while everyone looks at you like you're nuts.

I grew up struggling to learn Italian because my parents come from two different regions of Italy, both of which have their own sayings and translations. My mom's side is Calabrese, and they're notorious for speaking one of the weirdest dialects in Italy. It involves a lot of slang, and basically seems like a foreign language to many Italians. There's no sense in whipping out Google Translate in a conversation with Nonna, because even she doesn't know how to spell what the heck she's talking about. Then you have my dad's dialect, Murese, which seems to be a bit more normal, but still has some questionable words every now and then. After being raised with both of these dialects and classic Italian sayings, I've come to realize how ridiculous it sounds explaining how my family communicates. You'll get a kick out of this for sure. Here are some of the weird things my family says:

  1. Ma: This is hands down the most commonly used phrase for all Italians. It usually comes out when we're really frustrated. If you're ever surrounded by a group of Italians, play a little drinking game of your own. Take a drink every time this word comes up, and guaranteed you'll get a buzz by the end of the night.

  2. OHHHH: When an Italian yells "Oh", it's not because they understand what you're saying. Oh is basically used in two ways, 1) when you're trying to get someone's attention, as if to say "hey you", or 2) someone's rattled and it becomes the abbreviated form of "Oh my gosh".

  3. Boup [bow-p]: I can't tell you how many times people ask me what the heck I just said after using this word. Boup is used when an Italian has no explanation for you whatsoever, we're speechless, and "I don't know" is too long of a phrase.

  4. Fa la ninna [fa la nee-na]: This translate to "does the lullaby". For many Italian kids, this is how our Nonna's would let us know it's time to go to bed.

  5. Focu Meu [fo-ku may-you]: The broken translation is "my fire", but it's pretty much used as holy s****. Maybe you're stuck in traffic, you drop something, or you're in a rush and someone is taking their sweet time- FOCU MEU!!!!

  6. Mente la cha la bugia [men-te la cha la boo-ja]: There are different variations of this phrase but they all mean the same thing, keep it in you pocket/bag. This basically speaks to someone being petty. If someone does something wrong to you, you're going to hold on to it and remember it forever. Maybe you're the one being petty, or a member of your family is upset about someone not attending their wedding 20 years ago. Let me tell you, that one's gonna be kicking it in the bugia for YEARS.

  7. Botte chai lo culo [bot-tay chai low coo-low]: This was the threat of all threats us Italian kids would get if we were acting up. It basically means if we didn't shut up, or co-operate, we were gonna get a nice smack in the butt.

  8. Fatti i cazzi tuoi [fatty ee cat-zee toy]: This means mind your own f****** business. I saw this used the most when my Nonno would drive my Nonna nuts, and then come snooping in the kitchen to see what she was cooking. Classic.

  9. State cheeto quanto parle [sta-ta cheet-toe quan-tu par-lay]: It basically means, be quiet because you talk to much. My mom's side uses this every time the family gets together. I don't even know how to spell it... this is how ridiculous Calabrese is.. *Cheeto and zito have the exact same meaning.

  10. Mo mangia [mo man-ja]: This means "you eat", as if you think someone's full of it. It's the Italian version of saying yeah right. Eat your words because I know you're not serious.

My family is one of a kind, what can I say? Luckily I have some pretty awesome Italian friends that understand my pain. If your family uses any of these weird sayings, LET ME KNOW! Or if you just laughed at how ridiculous this all sounds, let me know too! Haha!

Fa la brava,


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Hi Juliana,

My grandmother's family were all from Muro Lucano. I often wondered what some of the expressions she used actually meant. I know they were not Italian. For example, when we were kids and were fooling around, she would say either "Scorchamende" or "Chitamengile". Another one was " Ma che cozza de way". That last one I can sort of figure out (What a something thing!) She would never tell me what they meant so I'm thinking they might have been dirty. Anyway if can reply, I'd appreciate it. Don

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