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Italian word of the day: ‘Scioglilingua’

How do you say 'Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers' in Italian?

Italian word of the day scioglilingua
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

For non-native speakers of Italian, scioglilingua (‘sho-ylee-LING-guah’) is an autological word – that is, one that describes itself.

It means ‘tongue twister’, and with that gli sound that doesn’t exist in English, it’s not the easiest word to learn to pronounce.

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Lingua is the Italian for ‘tongue’ (or language), and sciogliere can mean any of to melt, dissolve, loosen, untie or release, so a scioglilingua is literally a ‘tongue melter’ or ‘tongue loosener’.

È un vero scioglilingua.
It’s a real tongue twister.

Questo acronimo mi sembra uno scioglilingua.
This acronym seems like a mouthful to me.

There’s just as wide a range of tongue twisters available in Italian as there are in English. If you want to test yourself (this is an especially good one for those trying to get their tongue around gli), try:

Sul tagliere l’aglio taglia: non tagliare la tovaglia. La tovaglia non è aglio: se la tagli fai uno sbaglio.

(‘On the chopping board, cut the garlic; don’t cut the tablecloth. The tablecloth isn’t garlic; if you cut it you’ve messed up’).

You can find some other tongue twisters for practicing your rapid-fire Italian here.

Tongue Goat GIF

You might see the words sciogliere and lingua used in combination in other contexts, none of which involve tongue twisters.

To deliberately sciogliere your own lingua can mean to loosen or ‘untie’ your tongue so that you speak fluently and with confidence.

The La Stampa newspaper, for example, suggests 7 trucchi per sciogliere la lingua durante l’esame orale – seven tricks to loosen your tongue during your oral exam.

Mi si scoglie la lingua quando sono con lei.
I become a smooth talker when I’m with her.

To sciogliere la lingua accidentally, however, can mean to let something slip out that perhaps shouldn’t have.

Il vino gli ha fatto sciogliere la lingua.
The wine loosened his tongue.

È stato il tipo di cena che scioglie la lingua.
It was the kind of dinner that loosens the tongue.

And if you sciogliere someone else’s lingua, that means you’re forcing them to reveal something to you, perhaps against their will.

Conosco diversi modi per fargli sciogliere la lingua.
I know various ways to make them speak.

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Una settimana al freddo ti ha sciolto la lingua?
Did a week out in the cold loosen your tongue?

So here’s your challenge for this week: see if you can get make your way round some Italian tongue twisters while still knowing when to hold your tongue.

See our complete Word of the Day archive here. Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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Italian word of the day: ‘Noioso’

We assure you there's nothing boring about this word...

Italian word of the day: 'Noioso'

A slow internet connection, getting stuck in traffic, a lengthy cabinet address: they’re all tedious, dull, tiresome, mundane: in a word, boring, or in Italian, noioso (nwoy-OH-zoh).

È noioso fare lo stesso lavoro ogni giorno.
It’s boring doing the same job every day.

Molte persone pensano che il golf sia uno sport noioso.
Lots of people think golf is a boring sport.

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Like most Italian adjectives, the o ending changes reliably to a/i/e depending on whether the noun being described is masculine or feminine, singular or plural:

Non vuole fare una vita noiosa.
She doesn’t want to live a boring life.

Sempre gli stessi discorsi noiosi.
Always the same boring old speeches.

If something’s really boring, there’s a neat way of getting that across: you can add the intensifier issimo/a/i/e on the end to make noiosissimo (nwoy-oh-ZISS-eem-oh) and its equivalents.

Il ragazzo con cui sono uscita ieri sera era molto noiosissimo.
The guy I want out with last night was super boring.

Racconta sempre le stesse storie lunghe e noiosissime.
She always tells the same long and very boring stories.

In a spoken context, you might also sometimes hear people exclaim ‘Che noia!’ (kay-NWOY-ah!) – how boring!

Noia Annoiato GIF - Noia Annoiato Annoiata GIFs

What about the state of being bored?

Italian actually has two ways of expressing this. You can just ‘be’ bored, just as we are in English:

Sono annoiata senza di te.
I’m bored without you.

Vieni con noi se sei annoiato.
Come with us if you’re bored.

… or you can ‘bore yourself’ (which doesn’t actually mean that you’re the architect of your own boredom, as it would in English – it’s just another way of saying you’re bored).

Dice che a scuola si annoia da morire.
She says she’s bored out of her mind at school.

Se ti annoi, vai al cinema a vedere il nuovo film di Ridley Scott
If you’re bored, go to the cinema to watch the new Ridley Scott film.

Bored Noia GIF - Bored Noia Noioso GIFs

Note that because being bored is a state of being rather than an action, we use the imperfect rather than the perfect tense to describe having been bored in the past:

Quando ci annoiavamo a scuola, facevamo scherzi all’insegnante.
When we were bored at school, we used to play pranks on the teacher.

Se eravate così annoiati perché non mi avete detto niente?
If you were so bored why didn’t you say anything to me?

You’ve made it to the end: we hope that means non vi abbiamo annoiato (we haven’t bored you)!

Is there an Italian word of expression you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.