Saying and Speaking in the Italian Language

Sep 23, 2013



Blog mouth speaking
dire / parlare  

say, tell / speak, talk  

“Mi dica,” an Italian shopkeeper says when you enter a shop. “Tell me.”  A friend eager to know the latest gossip says the same thing but uses the informal form: “Dimmi. Dimmi tutto!” (Tell me. Tell me everything!) You respond by speaking (parlare) Italian.

To tell the truth (a dire la verita or il vero), I’m not always sure whether I’m about to dire or parlare when I open my mouth in Italy. I know how to dire di si o di no (say yes or no), but I can either dire or parlare bene o male (speak well or badly) of someone.

When stumped, I ask questions like “Come si dice…?" (How does one say…?), “Cosa vuole dire questa frase?” (What does this phrase say/mean?), or  “Che si dice?” (What do you say? What’s up?). 

Whatever you have to say, you'll discover many ways to speak: You can choose to parlare sottovoce (speak in a low voice), parlare piano (speak slowly or softly), or parlare ad alta voce/forte (speak loudly). You also can parlare a vanvera (talk off the top of one's head), parlare grasso (to talk fat or use bad language), or parlare del più e del meno (to talk of more or less–or this and that). 

In a library you have to sussurrare or bisbigliare (whisper). At a big game, you may want to urlare or gridare (scream). If you're startled, you might strillare (shriek).
Some people balbettare (stammer or stutter). Others borbottare or parlucchiare (mumble). Crotchety folks may mugugnare (grumble). Annoying persons often frignare (whine) while carefree ones may whistle (fischiare) and happy souls hum (canticchiare or canterellare).

There are things every speaker — parlatore (m) or parlatrice (f) – should avoid. Don’t dirla grossa (talk big to impress others) or dirne due a qualcuno (tell someone two, as in a  thing or two, when angry). Try not to parlottare (mutter) or parlare in punta di forchetta (speak on the point of a fork, or with affected elegance). Never parlare sporco (talk dirty). Above all, never sound like the pompous bores who parlare per dare fiato alla bocca (speak in order to give breath to the mouth–simply to hear themselves speak).

Just saying. (Tanto per dire)

Words and Expressions

non c’è che
 – There’s no disputing that

Chi parla? — “Who is speaking?” (a question often asked on the telephone)

Non se ne parla nemmeno! — Don’t mention it! No way!  Absolutely not!

Senza dire nè ai nè bai — without saying ai or bai, without so much as a how-do-you-do   

Parli come mangi! — literally, speak the way you eat; keep it simple; don't use fancy words to impress others     

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language. 


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La Bella Lingua