Try Being Rude in Italian! A Lesson Plan on Double Meanings and Common Rude Phrases and Gestures

By Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch

Italian is an expressive language that incorporates verbal and physical expressions. Learn about how to teach common Italian phrases that are rude and Italian gestures.

Cultural Considerations

In any language class, there comes the time where students want to know about swear words and how to be rude. This can be a difficult lesson to teach: you do not want to be teaching vulgar words to students who will repeat them everywhere. Any language, Italian being no exception, has some words and phrases that would make anyone blush. But there are some common Italian rude phrases that can be taught without causing too many problems.

A major factor in this lesson is the age group and maturity level of the class. If it is a younger class, then stick to more innocuous phrases like basta and mi lasce in pace, which are not vulgar, but can be considered rude in certain situations. In older classes, you can go over ruder phrases and Italian gestures, which students may come across when studying abroad.

Of course, make sure students understand the implications of using these rude phrases. Point out that using vulgar phrases are not acceptable in polite society, and may cause more problems for the speaker. Rather, emphasize that good manners and speaking properly will help them more when visiting Italy.

Phrases with Double Meanings

Many of the slang phrases in Italian have double meanings: what they mean literally, and what they actually mean. Point out to students that these types of phrases exist in many languages, including English. For example, “cut it out" in English means “to stop," not to tear something out. Since these phrases have meanings other than what they say literally, it takes some effort to remember them.

Start by writing the phrases on the board. Ask the students what the phrases mean literally. As the students answer, write the literal translation across from the Italian phrase. Underneath each phrase, write the actually meaning. The board should look like this:

allocco – an owl

(a jerk)

chiudere il becco – to close the beak

(to shut up)

essere un po' di fuori – to be a little bit out

(to be out of one's mind)

fannullone – do-nothing

(a lazy bum)

guastafesta – a party spoiler

(a party pooper)

leccapiedi – feet-licker


puzzare da fare schifo – to smell/stink

(to stink to high heaven)

un/una saccente – a knower

(a know-it-all, a smart-ass)

Ask students: how do the literal translation compare to the slang meaning? To test students, create a worksheet with the Italian phrases on the left and the actual translation on the right. Mix up the order and have students connect the correct translation to the phrase.

Other Common Italian Phrases: Rude

There are plenty of common Italian phrases that are rude, but most of them are too vulgar or offensive to discuss in the classroom. But there are some you can teach students that will not upset parents. Some easy ones to start out with are basta, which means “that's enough," and mi lasce in pace, which means “leave me in peace." These phrases can become rude when yelled at someone, but they are also effective in getting someone to leave you alone.

Many students may ask how to swear. A “safe" one to teach is accidenti, which means “damn!" Explain to students that if they need to swear in Italian, accidenti is much better to use that something more vulgar, which may lead to more problems.

Part of being rude in Italian is intention. For example, sei pazzo, which means “are you crazy?" does not seem rude when said jokingly between friends, but can be insulting if said seriously to someone who is not a friend.

Italian Gestures

Another part of being rude in Italian is using gestures. In general, slouching or chewing gum in public is considered rude. explains that certain Italian hand gestures show contempt, wish people bad luck or are obscene. You may or may not want to show what these gestures are, depending on the age group of the class. If using videos, point out when a bad gesture is used, but also show the consequences of its use. Explain that these gestures go beyond being rude and should be avoided. When in doubt, be polite! Rude phrases and gestures should only be used in situations that will not lead to more problems.