Italy Roundtable: Italian Terms of Endearment

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The Italy Roundtable was established six years ago. The goal of the Italy Roundtable was to partly introduce a new style to my blog and partly endear me to Italy writers with whom it was advantageous to have ties. I didn’t know how strong those ties would grow.

You don’t get to see the conversation that takes place behind the scenes when we discuss topic ideas, the meanings and support one another . These are smart, strong, funny and clever women that I have the privilege to know.

For this month’s Italy Roundtable theme FRIENDSHIP I am sending a virtual hug to Alexandra and Georgette, Kate, Laura. Melanie, Michelle, Michelle, and Rebecca. Although I know you didn’t realize what you were getting yourself into when you signed up all those years ago for the Italy Roundtable, I am so glad that you did. Baci, amiche.

Also, I am referring to terms of endearment. Some of them are absolutely adorable.

Italian for “friend” is “amico” (for a male) and “amica (for a female). A “buonamiico” (buon isica) or “grande isico”(grande amica) is a friend. Your “migliore isico” is your most trusted friend, and an “amico intimateo” is your closest friend (amica intimacy). “Friendly” can be translated as “amichevole” or “grande amico” (grande amica), and “friendship” is “amicizia”, which is a feminine word that doesn’t matter who is talking.

It is as colorful and vibrant as it is. However, there are many more words that can be used to indicate friendship or love than just Italian. While some of these words are adorable in English or Italian, others could be considered insults if they were translated into English.

Below is a list of my favourite Italian terms of endearment that you might hear in Italy. The masculine and female versions of each term, if applicable, are listed in alphabetical order – masculine first, feminine second.

Which ones are you familiar with? Which ones might you be interested in trying out?

Caro / Cara

KAH|roh, KAH|rah

High-priced, high-end, and expensive

One of the most popular terms for endearment is “caro” (or “cara”) It can be translated as “dear” and used alone or in conjunction with other words, such as “caro amico” or “caro mio”, which means “my dear”. In old English, we may also say that something is too expensive is “too dear” by using the word “caro”.

Tesoro

teh|ZOH|roh

Treasure or fortune?

Tesoro is a popular term for endearment that you can use to refer to a friend or loved one, especially if they are in a romantic relationship. It is masculine and means “treasure” regardless of who it is addressed to. It can also be translated as treasure, which is the same thing that pirates have, wealth, fortune or riches. A masterpiece of art can also be described by the word “tesoro”.

Mimmo / Mimma

MEE|moh, MEE|mah

little boy/girl (diminutive)

You might be familiar with the term “bambino”, which literally means little boy. Mimmo is the diminutive of “bambino,” which is used mainly by parents and other adults to address young children. It is most commonly associated with the Tuscan dialect. However, it can also be heard elsewhere in Italy. A number of Italian male first names are also known as “Mimmo”.

Cucciolo / Cucciola

KOO|cho|loh, KOO|cho|lah

Puppy, rookie

Parents often use the term “cucciolo” to refer to their children. It literally means “puppy.” It can also be used as a descriptor of someone with little experience. For example, we might call a newbie a “rookie” until they have proven themselves on the job.

Passerotto / Passerotta

pass|eh|ROHT|toh, pass|eh|ROHT|tah

Baby sparrow

It is the Italian term for sparrow, “passero,” with the diminutive suffix of “-otto” for a baby sparrow. However, this is a word that parents use often with/about their children. In fact, the plural form “passerotti” can also be used to replace “the children” amongst friends. It is also used to describe sweethearts. (Unrelated: I found it interesting that one of the English translations suggested for “passerotto”, on WordReference.com, is “lambkin”. I’m pretty sure that I haven’t heard that one in quite a while. I need your help to bring it back.

Topolino / Topolina

toh|poh|LEE|noh, toh|poh|LEE|nah

little mouse, Mickey Mouse

You’ll see the trend of diminutive italicized versions of other Italian words used as terms for endearment. Topo means “mouse,” and topolino means “little mouse.” This is a term that’s mainly used by parents to refer to their children. Many of you may recall my contribution to the Italy Roundtable last month about the word FOREIGN. You might also remember that Mickey Mouse was given the term “topolino”, in the 1930s. This nickname stuck and, despite the fact that many English words have been adopted into the Italian language, Mickey Mouse is still called Topolino.

Fragolina

frah|goh|LEE|nah

Little strawberry

We move on to small animals and small food with “fragolina.” I suspect that this means that you won’t see many little boys being called “fragolina” in the home by their parents. However, there may be some innovative and boundary-breaking Italian parents. This one could also be used in parent-child relationships.

Patatino / Patatina

pah|tah|TEE|noh, pah|tah|TEE|nah

little potato, French fry, potato chip

This one reminds of the French “mon petit chou”, a common endearment which literally means, “my little cabbage.” In Italian, the word patata is “potato” so calling someone a “patatino”, or “patatina”, is like calling them your “little potato.” In Italy, “patatina” refers to a French fry or potato chips. It should be noted that “patatina”, which is also the Italian word for a French fry or potato chip, has a more vulgar connotation. (Think, “grab’em by …,”” or the pink cat-ear caps millions of American women have been knitting), but this would be obvious from the context.

Polpetto

pohl|PEHT|toh

Meatball

You don’t want to think that cute food words are leaving out beloved grown men, so I will reward you with “polpetto” (the feminine form). This means “meatball”, which is something that Italians eat, but not over spaghetti. It’s also a term of affection for men when you use the masculine form of the word. It doesn’t seem to have any direct connection with “meathead,” however.

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21 Responses to “Italy Roundtable – Italian Terms of Endearment”

  • Greg Speck said:

    Grazie, so helpful when learning the languagte

  • Gloria has the following:

    Jessica, thank you so much! <3

  • It’s so wonderful that my name is expensive! !

  • Sheila Mannello says:

    We are grateful! I’m currently in Tuscany and will be moving on to Florence in a few more days.

  • MK says:

    This is a very helpful post! How about ‘bella” or ‘piccola? These names might be used by an Italian male?

  • Albert says:

    Albert is my name and my Italian Grandmother used the nickname “Albertucci” to refer to me. It was used as a term for endearment. It sounded more like “Albertuch”. It sounded more like “Albertuch”.

    • Jess has the following:

      Albert, that’s a great question. Although I have heard Tucci used as a lastname, it is not the same thing. Where did your grandmother come from? It could have been more regional than Italian. This page discusses the etymology and origins of Tucci’s surname. It is suggested that it began as a suffix.

      • Albert says:

        Thank you for your response. I don’t know how hot she called me and I wish she had asked before she died. It’s also unclear where her parents came from. She was the first generation American/Italian. Geno seems to be a constant in my head for some reason. Calabria was the home of my Grandfather. Thank you again for your kind words!

        • Jess has the following:

          Chances are that your grandmother came from Calabria if your grandfather was from Calabria and you met your grandparents in Italy.

  • Barbara says:

    Hello! Hello! Is there any way to find out what he is referring to when he says that? I would like to ask him directly but don’t wish to intrude on a term of endearment. If you can, please help…

    Thanks! !

    • Jessica says:

      Barbara, I haven’t heard of that term. This could be a regional nickname that is based on the origin of your boyfriend’s family. It would be fine to ask him, as you are curious about his culture.

  • Hi. Hi. Amira Casar called Timothee Chalamet “pechino” or something similar in the movie. It’s a common Italian term for endearment. I was curious what it means.

    • Jessica says:

      This word was new to me, but it is the Italian name for Beijing. It could be used as a term for endearment. I haven’t seen the movie so I cannot confirm it’s the right word.

  • PVT says:

    Hi! Hi! I’m not sure if it is French or Italian.

    • Jessica says:

      Although I don’t know what the song is, I do know that “ami” in French means “friend”.


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