By Claudia Quesito

Let’s talk about “the untranslatables,” i.e. Italian words, expressions, and sayings that do not have an exact English equivalent. There are, of course, instances the other way around, too. Some English words hardly translate entirely in Italian. “Awkward,” for instance, is often translated as strano, or imbarazzante. Awkward is, indeed, a mix of strange and embarrassing, but not always and not only. The multiple nuances and meanings conveyed by this very common adjective are partially lost in translation.

Ti voglio bene definitely falls into the just-described category. Its closest translation is “I love you,” but I love you also translates in Italian as ti amo. Ti voglio bene and ti amo, however, convey quite different feelings: you only use the latter in romantic relationships, for a start. Ti voglio bene roughly translates “you mean a lot to me,” and is used to express a deep, encompassing kind of love. You can tell your romantic partner both ti voglio bene and ti amo, but you would never say ti amo to a friend or a family member. You might stumble across the acronym of ti voglio bene (TVB) or one of its many variations (like TVTB—ti voglio tanto bene) which are widespread, especially among young people.

Another untranslatable is abbiocco, which is the kind of sleepiness and drowsiness that hits you after a rich lunch. The closest English translation is “food coma,” but abbiocco is gentler. Just picture yourself on the couch after a delicious lunch that lasted a while: You just want to surrender to a nap. That’s abbiocco and you would say mi è preso l’abbiocco.

Since we mentioned food, let’s finish with Conosco i miei polli!, a very common expression that means “I know exactly what I’m talking about,” but you’re literally saying “I know my chickens.” The expression was originally used by people who apparently knew everything about cooking poultry, but it is now used to confirm that you’re knowledgeable about something (or that you are perfectly aware of someone’s nature) if someone else raises a doubt.

Try to think of some funny English expressions you know, or maybe something people say in specific areas of the US: Are there Italian equivalents?

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