Definition of Italian in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ɪˈtaljən/


Relating to Italy, its people, or their language.
Example sentences
  • Deschamps brought in older players from Italy and also Italian coaches in that first year.
  • He even knows two British guys who run an Italian cookery school in Italy.
  • I have many friends in Italy and Italian football after playing all those years.


1A native or inhabitant of Italy, or a person of Italian descent.
Example sentences
  • Nor was there any question here of native Italians drafting their own constitution.
  • The Italians at least showed us what a national anthem should be all about.
  • Alessandro was also a firm believer that all Italians should live under Italian rule.
2 [mass noun] The Romance language of Italy, descended from Latin and with roughly 60 million speakers worldwide. It is also one of the official languages of Switzerland.
Example sentences
  • She had been tutored by John Aylmer and she spoke French, Greek, Latin and Italian fluently.
  • The French actors spoke French, the Italian actors spoke Italian and the boys spoke English.
  • Naturally I couldn't say as I don't speak Italian or whatever language they were berating me in.



Example sentences
  • He was also a soldier in the intelligence corps who volunteered for action in North Africa and, as a respected captain and distinguished Italianist, ultimately accepted the surrender of Italy during the Second World War.
  • In fact, he begins, in what might be his strongest chapter, by taking to task Italianists who study ‘literature of emigration’ in a rather single-minded way.


Pronunciation: /ɪˈtaljənʌɪz/
(also Italianise) verb
Example sentences
  • After taking the post of general surveyor of royal building Jones began the Italianizing of medieval London.
  • The chocolate-hazelnut gelato is yet another argument for Italianizing one's first name.
  • Consider Italianizing your bedroom for springtime by getting rid of your ‘dusty’ dust ruffle, that frilly flounce around the base of your bed.


Late Middle English: from Italian italiano, from Italia 'Italy'.

  • Make mine a cappuccino

    The Italian loves of food, music, and the good life have injected bright colours into English usage. At the other extreme, the Italian language of crime, captured on film and TV, has infiltrated talk of murkier areas of life.

    IF you want pasta cooked so that it is still firm when you bite into it, you should ask for it to be al dente, literally ‘to the tooth’. Varieties of pasta include fusilli or ‘little spirals’ and penne or ‘quills’—most were unknown in English until the 20th century, but vermicelli or ‘little worms’ and macaroni date back to the 17th century. A determined meat-eater might ask for carpaccio. This name for thin slices of raw meat comes from the surname of the medieval Italian painter Vittore Carpaccio (c.1460–1525/1526), because of his characteristic use of red pigments, resembling raw meat.

    Baroness Frances Bunsen (1791–1876) was a diplomat's wife who travelled widely. A letter about one of her trips has given us the first mention of the pizza, in 1825: ‘They gave us ham, and cheese, and frittata [a kind of omelette], and pizza.’ The Italian word simply means ‘pie’.

    Some kinds of Italian food suggest their appeal rather than their look or shape, such as the veal dish saltimbocca, whose name means literally ‘leap into the mouth’. The dessert tiramisu was unknown to English until the 1980s, since when the combination of coffee-and-brandy-soaked sponge and mascarpone cheese has become irresistible. The name comes from tira mi sù ‘pick me up’.

    After the meal you might have the strong black espresso, whose name comes from caffé espresso ‘pressed-out coffee’, or the milder latte, from caffé latte ‘milk coffee’. A macchiato, espresso with a dash of frothy steamed milk, is short for caffé macchiato, literally ‘stained or marked coffee’. In Italian cappuccino means ‘Capuchin monk’, probably because the drink's colour resembles a Capuchin's brown habit. The Capuchins are a branch of the Franciscan order that takes their name from the sharp-pointed hood worn by the monks—cappuccio in Italian, which is from the same root as cape. It is now found on every high street, but cappuccino has been known in English only since the 1940s.

    A life of heedless pleasure and luxury is a dolce vita, or ‘sweet life’, a phrase brought into English by the 1960 film La Dolce Vita, directed by Federico Fellini. A lazy person who likes the idea of pleasant idleness is attracted to dolce far niente, literally ‘sweet doing nothing’.

    The term fresco for a painting done rapidly on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling means ‘cool, fresh’ in Italian. The same word is part of al fresco, meaning ‘in the open air’—in English this phrase tends to refer to eating outdoors, as in this example from GQ magazine: ‘Open 7 days a week…with al fresco dining in fine weather’. The phrase dates back to the 1750s in English and was used by Jane Austen.

    Sheet music was first printed during the Renaissance by Italians, which is why Italian is the language of musical terms, a number of which have moved into the wider language. We might talk of excitement reaching a crescendo, a word originally used to indicate gradually increasing loudness in a piece of music. Someone might be speaking fortissimo, ‘very loudly’, or sotto voce, ‘in a quiet voice’—literally ‘under the voice’. Italian has also given us the names for different ranges of singing voice, including alto ‘high’, soprano, from sopra ‘above’, and baritone, which is ultimately from Greek barus ‘heavy’ and tonos ‘tone’. Many of the great opera singers have been Italian, and opera itself is the Italian word for ‘work’.

    Films like The Godfather (1972) and Goodfellas (1990), and the more recent television series The Sopranos, have familiarized us with some of the enigmatic vocabulary associated with the mafia. Members practise omertà, or a code of silence, which is a dialect form of umità ‘humility’. Within the group the adviser to the leader, who resolves internal disputes, is known as the consigliere, literally ‘member of a council’. Presumably it is only after his arts have failed that someone may reach for his lupara, or sawn-off shotgun, a slang term that comes from lupa ‘she-wolf’. A high-ranking member of the Mafia is a don, a word also used for a British university teacher, which comes from Latin dominus ‘master’.

    See also confetti, fiasco, ghetto, graffiti, inferno, influenza, malaria, pantaloons, paste, tenor

Words that rhyme with Italian


For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: Ital|ian

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.