Italy and swearing just belong together. When it comes to curse words (parolacce) and insults, no one does it quite like the Italians.
One of the most fascinating things about swearing in Italian is that the vocabulary is so vast, rich and colorful.
Here is a guide to the insults and bad words you will need when arguing like an Italian. Even if you don’t use them, knowing these swear words will allow you to fully understand what is being said around you, since you will surely come across them often when in Italy.
Note: This post may contain terms that are inappropriate for some readers.
In Italian, the word cazzo literally means “dick”, and is commonly used not only to express anger, but also as an exclamation of surprise, disappointment or even appreciation. It is extremely common, and mastering its usage is crucial to better relate to those around you.It can be added to a sentence, or be used as an exclamation. You can use cazzo, pronounced /kattso/, in combination with Italian question words, to add sass to what you are saying. For example:
Chi cazzo credi di essere?
Who the fuck do you think you are?
Che cazzo dici?
What the fuck are you saying?
Dove cazzo vai?
Where the fuck are you going?
Quando cazzo torni?
When the fuck are you coming back?
Perché cazzo non me l’hai detto?
Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?
We also use “’sto cazzo” (literally: this dick) to emphasize stuff in normal conversations.The term minchia, pronounced /meenkia/, has the exact same meaning and usage as cazzo, but note that it is a feminine noun. It originates from the Sicilian dialect, and is now common anywhere in Italy. Minchia and cazzo can be used interchangeably.
Che minchia stai dicendo? / Che cazzo stai dicendo?
What the fuck are you saying?
Cazzo and minchia are definitely bad words, so use them sparingly. I mean, don’t use them at dinner with your Italian in-laws. Remember that cazzo and minchia are never acceptable in writing and in formal situations.
The mild form of cazzo is cavolo, which means cabbage. Cavolo is inoffensive and harmless enough that even children say it.
Others substitutes for the vulgar expression cazzo are:
pronounced /kakkjo/, which is an agricultural term that indicates the sprouts of vines
a spiny, leafless plant
emperor in German
casserole, pot, saucepan
corresponds to “wow”, and is totally inoffensive. Its diminutive caspiterina is also very common
Note that cacchio and cazzarola retain a teeny tiny little dose of cursing.
Vaffanculo is probably the dirtiest, nastiest and most famous curse word of all. You are likely to really make someone angry when using this expression.
Consider this the Italian version of “fuck off”, “fuck you” and “screw you”. It is used to invite someone to leave, or to stop doing something. The word vaffanculo, or fanculo, is the contract form of the phrase “vai a fare in culo”, which literally means “go fuck someone in the ass”.There are different ways to say fuck off in Italian. You may happen to hear:
vai a dar via il culo
an exhortation to have a passive anal intercourse
va’ a farti fottere
literally: go let someone fuck you
vai a prenderlo in culo
go take it up your ass
vattelo a pigliare in culo
go take it up your ass
vai a cagare
literally means “go take a shit”
All the above examples are equivalent to vaffanculo.Here are some clean alternatives:
go take a bath
go make a broth
go make a heart
vai a quel paese
go to that village
vai a dormire
go to sleep
vai a casa
vai a farti un giro
go for a walk
If you want to be extra insulting, though, curse someone’s dead loved ones by saying vaffanculo a chi t’è morto, which literally means “go fuck your dead family members”. This expression is used especially in the south of Italy.
In Italy, when something truly pisses us off, we yell “porca puttana”, which literally translates to “pig slut”, and is used in a similar way as “bloody hell”. A great way to express anger at stubbing your toe or dealing with traffic, “porca puttana” is a colorful way to say “dammit” or “damn”.
Porca puttana, guarda dove vai!
Damnit, watch where you’re going!
Instead of puttana you can use a synonym, such as troia, zoccola and mignotta, which all mean “slut”.
If you want to use a clean version, say porca miseria, which means “pig misery/pig poverty”. The word porca (pig, pork) is not very elegant indeed, but it is not so dirty either. Porca miseria is an acceptable expression in Italian.I’ve heard people say porca pupazza (pig puppet), porca paletta (pig shovel), porca puzzola (pig skunk) and porca trota (pig trout). Porca vacca (pig cow) and porca zozza (pig dirty) can be used too, but they are not completely clean, as the terms vacca and zozza are commonly used to mean whore.
How comprehensive of a list of swear words could this be without some way to say “shit” in Italian? Merda is used in exactly the same way as “shit” in English.Accidenti, accidentaccio, perbacco, accipicchia and acciderbole are more polite alternatives. These expressions sound a little old-fashioned and don’t really have a meaning. Use them to avoid saying “merda”. For example:
Merda! Ho dimenticato il telefono in casa!
Shit, I forgot my phone at home!
Accidenti! Ho dimenticato il telefono in casa!
Man, I forgot my phone at home!
Mi hai rotto i coglioni literally means “you have cracked my balls”. You can replace i coglioni with il cazzo, if you like.
Similar expressions are:
mi hai fatto girare i coglioni
literally translates to “you have turned my balls”
mi hai cagato il cazzo
meaning “you have shitted my dick”
All the above expressions refer to someone being really, really annoying.
Palle (balls), balle (bales), marroni (chestnuts), cocomeri (watermelons) and zebedei (bollocks) are slightly nicer ways of saying coglioni. 100% clean alternatives are scatole (boxes) and i cosiddetti (the so-called).
Mi hai proprio rotto i coglioni!
You’re breaking my fucking balls!
Mi hai proprio rotto le scatole / Mi hai rotto i cosiddetti!
You’re so annoying!
Cazzata, minchiata, stronzata and puttanata correspond to bullshit in English, and indicate a lie or something stupid. If you want to use a clean alternative, substitute them with cavolata, stupidaggine or fesseria, which mean nonsense.
Non dire cazzate!
Don’t talk bullshit!
Non dire cavolate/fesserie/stupidaggini!
Don’t talk rubbish!
Figa means cunt in Italian. It is slang for “vagina”. As an exclamation, it can express anything from surprise to disappointment, frustration and extreme satisfaction.
Figa, ho detto di no!
I fucking said no!
It is used A LOT in informal, everyday speech as an interjection, without a real meaning. Here in Lombardy, saying figa is like putting the dot at the end of a sentence. It is so common that it is not even perceived as dirty anymore.As an adjective, figa is very vulgar, yet not necessarily offensive. It actually means sexy, hot and attractive if referring to a woman. If referring to a guy (figo), it means someone really cool, handsome and confident, a stud.
Gnocca, typical Bolognese version of figa, is widely used with the same meaning.
Suca, or succhia, roughly translates to “suck my cock” or “suck my dick”. It is a very raunchy, rude and offensive expression, especially when accompanied by a vulgar hand gesture that mimics the classic head-push during oral sex.This is not used to ask someone to have an oral intercourse with you, though. Suca is to be used when someone pisses you off, as a way to intimidate, mortify and humiliate them.
Here is a list of insults, ranked in order of offensiveness. Most of the following insults end in -o. Make sure you use the correct ending depending on who you want to insult, and which gender you need to use. Use -o for masculine, and -a for feminine.
In the most basic sense, sfigato means “loser”, and can be used to refer to someone who is uncool, dorky, clumsy, hapless or very unlucky.
Sei uno sfigato! / Sei una sfigata!
You’re a loser!
Faccia di culo literally means that your face looks like an ass. Don’t take offence, though, because in Italian it is not as bad as it sounds. If someone has a faccia da culo, or la faccia come il culo, it actually means that they have a lot of nerve and are very direct.
It doesn’t change according to gender.
Rincoglionirsi literally means to become senile. Rincoglionito and its clean synonyms rimbambito, stordito and suonato are used to refer to someone stupid or contemptibly absent-minded, with their head in the clouds. For example:
Ti sei rincoglionito?! / Ti sei rincoglionita?!
Are you out of your mind?
Rompicoglioni corresponds to “ballbuster”, “ball breaker” and “pain in the ass” in English. It indicates someone that bothers you, or annoys you.
Clean alternatives are rompiscatole, literally box breaker, and spina nel fianco, which has its almost literal equivalent in “a thorn in my side”. Rompicoglioni is invariable. For example:
Paolo è un gran rompicoglioni / Sara è una gran rompicoglioni
Paolo is a pain in the ass / Sara is a pain in the ass.
Paolo è un gran rompiscatole / Sara è una gran rompiscatole
Paolo is such a nuisance / Sara is such a nuisance.
Cagacazzo comes from the abovementioned expression “mi hai cagato il cazzo”, and refers to someone who is being really irritating and annoying. It is invariable.
Matteo è proprio un cagacazzo
Matteo is a real fucking pain-in-the-ass.
Alessia è proprio una cagacazzo
Alessia is a real fucking pain-in-the-ass.
Consider morto di figa the Italian version of calling someone a poonhound or cunt-struck. It refers to an heterosexual man with strong sexual desires, who really enjoys the pursuit of poon and can’t get enough poontang. For example:
Roberto è un morto di figa
Roberto sure is a poonhound.
Segaiolo has its almost literal equivalent in the English term “wanker”, literally “one who masturbates”. It is a mildly offensive insult, used to refer to a very unpleasant man.
Leccaculo literally means “ass licker”, and refers to someone who behaves obsequiously not because they are genuinely nice and caring, but for their own advantage, in order to gain favor. It corresponds to “kiss-ass” in English and is invariable.A softer version is leccapiedi, which means feet licker.
Sega is handjob in Italian. Mezza sega literally translates to “half a saw”, but actually means pipsqueak. It indicates someone who is insignificant and unimportant.
It is also used to say that you suck at something. For example:
Sono una mezza sega in matematica
I suck at math / I’m rubbish at math.
A clean alternative is mezza calzetta, which means half sock.
Coglione is, perhaps, the most common insult that Italians of all ages like to use against each other. It literally translates to testicle. Saying that someone is a coglione means that they are inept, stupid, unintelligent and contemptibly naïve.
It corresponds to dumbass, dummy and idiot in English. Softer synonyms include asino (donkey), somaro (donkey) and fessacchiotto (silly).
Sei un coglione! / Sei una cogliona!
You’re such an idiot!
Sei un fessacchiotto! / Sei una fessacchiotta!
You’re so silly!
Cazzone and minchione literally mean big penis, and can be used as direct insults. They are another way to say idiot, dolt and chump in Italian. Remember to change the ending when referring to a female. For example:
Sei un cazzone/minchione / Sei una cazzona/minchiona
You’re such an idiot!
If you want to insult someone’s manhood, you could take a homophobic turn with frocio, ricchione, culattone and rottinculo, which are all slurs for gay people. A slightly milder alternative is finocchio, which means fennel, but has come to mean homo.
Cornuto literally means horned, and refers to a man whose wife is cheating on him. It is extremely offensive in southern Italy. Expect to get a lot of anger back if you say it.
A fairly common Italian insult is stronzo, which corresponds to “asshole” in English. It is widely used to indicate that somebody is a bad, cruel, despicable and detestable person. Stronza, feminine, corresponds to “bitch”.
Stronzo is turd in English, which means piece of excrement. If you want to make it even stronger, say stronzo malcagato, which literally translates to “badly shitted turd”.The best thing to do if you want to avoid saying stronzo is to use brutta persona (bad person) or something more specific, like insensibile (insensitive). For example:
Sei proprio uno stronzo! / Sei proprio una stronza!
You’re such an asshole!
Sei proprio una brutta persona!
You’re such a bad person!
Clean, childish alternatives are struzzo (ostrich) and strombolo, which I think comes from Stromboli, a volcanic island off the north coast of Sicily, in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Pezzo di merda corresponds to “piece of shit”, and its meaning is similar to stronzo. It indicates an awful, horrible, deplorable person.
A slightly better synonym is pezzo di fango, literally piece of mud, which is still very offensive.
If you ever come to Italy, you will hear the word cazzo a lot. Testa di cazzo and testa di minchia correspond to “dickhead”, and are commonly used to indicate an unkind, unpleasant and bad-mannered person.As mentioned previously, a clean version of cazzo is cavolo (cabbage). Replace testa di cazzo with testa di cavolo, then, if you want to sound less rude.
As was mentioned earlier, if you aim to be extra offensive, target family members. Figlio di puttana is a strong, highly offensive insult, and means son of a whore. Again, you can replace puttana with a synonym, like troia and mignotta. You choose.
Italians are very touchy about mothers, and this is the most insulting you can go. Use it with caution. Thanks God, “motherfucker” doesn’t have an exact equivalent in Italian.
Figlio di buona donna, literally meaning “son of a good woman”, sounds like a more polite synonym, but is frequently used sarcastically.
Quel figlio di puttana mi ha rubato l’autoradio
That son of a bitch stole my car radio
Quel figlio di buona donna mi ha rubato l’autoradio
That son of a biscuit stole my car radio
The most controversial Italian swears revolve around religion. In Italy, blasphemous expressions shock and offend way more than vulgar and sexual swear words. Cursing God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the apostles and all the saints is considered especially taboo in Italy.
In the regions of Veneto and Tuscany, blasphemous profanity mix with ordinary swear words without causing much offence. In Veneto in particular, blasphemy has become a stereotype. But this is not the case in the rest of Italy, especially in the South.
There you go! I hope that these Italian curse words have made you laugh.
Remember that swearing may significantly vary from region to region, and even from province to province in Italy. In this post, I have mainly focused on swearwords and insults that are commonly used in standard Italian.
Jessica is a native Italian speaker, a passionate linguist and a proud Grammar nerd. She has a lifelong passion for English and studied Linguistic and Cultural Mediation at the University of Milan. She currently works as a freelance translator and copywriter.