“È come il prezzemolo!”, He’s like parsley! That’s what Italians say of someone or something you see everywhere, like parsley on Italian dishes. Intercalari and interiezioni are elements of the Italian spoken language that people sprinkle all over, to emphasize what they want to say.
Just like parsley, intercalari and interiezioni are really everywhere in the Italian spoken language. But, again, just like parsley, when they are too many, they can spoil the taste of our beautiful language.
Intercalari are fragments, specific words used outside the canonical structure of a sentence. They can give an elegant pace to a speech or be very annoying, a sort of linguistic nervous tic.
Allora, appunto, insomma, diciamo, dai, vabè (a Milano), vabbè (a Roma), vabbuò (a Napoli), così, ecco, cioè, è vero, non so, come dire, voglio dire, ti dico, per così dire, diciamo, vedi, guarda, senti, praticamente, tipo, un attimino and many others, are classic intercalari.
Some of them are used as ice-breakers to start a sentence (allora, dunque, senti, guarda, vedi, praticamente …) others as a sort of request, a confirmation that you are listening to what I’m saying… (cioè, allora, no?, niente, proprio, capito) to which you are supposed to nod, like when someone in English says ” you know” every 10 words.
Here below, a fragment of an Italian cult comedy movie called “Un sacco bello”: a debate between a desperate father, a hippie son with his girlfriend living in a community in Tuscany, and a priest. They have a strong Roman accent and speak quite fast. Don’t worry, just listen.
Try to count the cioè, allora, proprio, no? niente, and others you may catch.
That was quite extreme, but some people use intercalari a bit too much.
If you already have some familiarity with the Italian spoken language, you may have noticed that Italians curse a lot. If we had to put together all the Italian bad words, we would need an encyclopaedia and include all the regional and local rich vernacular expressions, some of which are surprisingly vulgar as well as anatomically accurate. We don’t want to go too much into detail, but Italian bad words are very common intercalari, so before you ask someone “che cosa vuol dire …” I will tell you right now the top 5: please do not read any further if you are particularly sensible…
If you are ready to learn some Italian bad words, click here
Finally the interiezioni are a sort of intercalari, but usually shorter expressions of different emotions. Depending on the intonation and intensity, the same sound can have different meanings, followed by a question mark or an exclamation. I can’t include all the feelings here but I will write some emotions in Italian. Google them and find their meaning.
- Ah: sorpresa, desiderio, rabbia, dubbio
- Eh: sorpresa, indignazione, approvazione, rabbia
- Oh: gioia, sorpresa, ammirazione
- Boh: sorpresa, smarrimento
- Mah: dubbio
- Toh; sorpresa,
The latter, toh, is used also when you give something to someone, =”prendi!”
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