language warning – sweeping the floor of figs in italy

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when your fidanzato speaks english about as well as you can speak italian, hilarity [and profanity] reigns supreme.

while both of us are worlds better at one another’s languages these days, for a while it was a patchwork system of charades, pulling out the webster’s mini italiano-inglese at inopportune moments, the sound of braincogs a-squeaking with effort and being prepared to be laughed at.
naturally at times this meant a certain touchiness: sore proud spots, not getting the joke and one of us [ok, me] getting huffy and walking off stage.

and because the stage is italiano, sometimes it meant that i’d say things i didn’t mean to say. well, i’d mean to say them, but the meaning is twofold.

take scopare, for example. this is the italian verb that means ‘to sweep’. when i first came to santa fiora i was staying in the house of the etruscan’s friend. the day before moving out, i wanted to clean the place and, not finding a dustpan or broom, sent a text to the etruscan stating this [courtesy of google translate, which, i notice has changed its definition accordingly]:

ho bisogno di scoppare il pavimento [i need to sweep the floor].

the etruscan said, ‘certo’, and nothing more. except at dinner that evening, with a lot of his friends around, he told me the ‘other’ meaning of ‘sweeping the floor’ – to have sexual intercourse – and then he proceeded to show the text to everyone who roared and applauded and when i said, ‘no no how embarrassing,’ and they all said, ‘no no…it’s nice!’

if i'd known the term, perhaps i could have worn appropriate protective attire.

if i’d known the term, perhaps i could have worn appropriate protective attire.
image from

ok. thanks, google, you degenerating search engine, you.

as in every country in the world, the expressions in italy for  and names for the genitalia of both sexes are manyfold and only doctors and starchy parents call them by their scientific names. this means there is often a double-up on names in the world in general.

take the word uccello, for example. it means ‘bird’ but also ‘dick’ … and take the word dick, it’s a diminutive of richard. weird on all sides.

another example: ‘yes i’d like a bag for the fica’ instead of ‘fico’ is not only bad for the environment to want a bag for only one fig, you have in essence asked for a bag for something that is a colloquial term for ‘lady parts’ [lady parts is not colloquial, but a euphemism - oh down the rabbit hole we could go! no double entendre intended].

fico e salumi

fico e salumi
image from

the amount of times i have almost said ‘fica’ instead of ‘fico’ in the shop within range of the etruscan’s hearing [intentionally and otherwise] is in itself a study in how a man can change his expression at the drop of a hat.

in my experience [too late, but it’s nice!] it pays to get the lowdown on this stuff first. find someone willing [ha!] and learn all the swearwords, the colloquial terms and the idiomatic expressions. the naughty words reside in an area of the brain aside from the rest of the language centre [there are studies on this, explaining why people with tourette’s syndrome generally spontaneously say words like ‘fuck’ and not words like ‘worldpeace’].
if nothing else, they’re useful for when you stub your toe.

so … my question to you: i want to know what embarrassing experiences have you had with swearwords, colloquialisms and twofold meanings in general?

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6 thoughts on “language warning – sweeping the floor of figs in italy

  1. Excellent! LOL! How many times has the same thing happened to me! :P Of course only to end up in mortifying situation, or googling the word later and feeling like an ‘imbecile!’.
    Not too long after I arrived, at a bar I asked for a ‘succo di pesce’ (fish juice) instead of ‘succo di pesca’ (peach juice) – not too severe, however to this day, (altho I am sure I have done this in the past), I am terrified of asking to use someone’s ‘pene’ (penis) instead of a ‘penna’ (pen)!!! ;)

      • 3 bums ago… brilliant.
        When I use my style of Italian, I carefully watch their faces for shock or horror. Normally I just see confusion in their faces or mirth. :)

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