Romanesco: A guide to Roman dialect

 If you’ve been studying Italian, you’re probably eager to try out your new linguistic skills on the locals.

But on coming to Rome, you might hear some unexpected versions of what you’ve learned in class – and some new phrases where you have no clue what they mean.

What you’re probably listening to is Romans speaking their own dialect: Romanesco.

We’ve created the following short guide to help you impress your new friends and neighbours with your knowledge of their local language.

Aò!

“Ciao!” isn’t exactly a laborious greeting, particularly when compared to “Buongiorno!”, but the Romans have managed to find an even shorter way to say hello to friends.

Romans also tend not to use “bella” to describe someone as good-looking, instead using “bono” or “bona” derived from “buono” and “buona”, which tend to just mean “good” in the Italian you’ll have learned so far.

It is also often added to the end of sentences to make them more expressive.

Come te butta?

This is the Romans’ way of asking “come va?” or “come stai?”, meaning “how are you?” or “how’s it going?”. 

The expression comes from the Italian word “buttare”, literally meaning “to throw away”.

So don’t be alarmed if someone asks you how you’re throwing yourself. They’re simply asking “what’s up?”.

Ammazza!

Again, the fact this expression comes from the verb “ammazzare” – to kill – shouldn’t make you scared.

Although it literally means “kills”, it’s actually the Roman version of “wow!” to express amazement or surprise.

Da paura!

Nothing to do with being frightened, this is another way to say “ammazza!” as above. It can also be a compliment, like saying that outfit is “da paura!”.

Daje!

On coming to Rome for the first time, lots of foreigners are surprised and confused when they hear young children shouting this at their grandmothers. 

But they’re not hoping to speed up their inheritance – they’re just telling their nonna “come on!”

Usually this expression is to show frustration or get someone to hurry up, but it can also be used in a positive way, like cheering for your team or when you’re happy for a friend.

This is probably the most commonly used expression – you’ll hear it all across Rome on a daily basis. 

Abbiocco, followed by ‘Na pennica

These two Roman expressions tend to go hand-in-hand.

Abbiocco is when you’ve eaten so much delicious cucina Romana that you’re feeling sleepy – like a “food coma” in English.

And what do you need when you’re in a food coma?

“Me faccio ‘na pennica” tells everyone you’re off for a quick nap.

Avoja!

Used carefully (sometimes you don’t want to sound too keen), this means “yeah, I’m up for that!” The “j” is softened to sound like a “y” in pronunciation.

So if someone asks if you want to go to that new nightclub tonight, reply “avoja!”

Sto ‘a schiumà!

In summer, Rome can get oppressively hot. Even the locals find it hard to cope with the soaring temperatures.

So you’re quite likely to hear complaints of “sto ‘a schiumà”, literally meaning “I’m foaming” (from the heat).

by Catherine Evans