You are cordially invited to buzz the hell off

So, the Italian language has two different types of “you” – the informal one (tu) and the formal one (Lei).

  • Tu is what you say when you are talking to your friends, younger people, and other people who you know well and have a close relationship with
  • Lei is what you use when you are speaking to strangers, your elders, or people whom you want to show a certain level of respect to

Wanna know something cool? Italians have this great way of using the formal “you”, even when in the heat of a verbal dispute.

Using Lei when arguing with somebody you don’t know or who you want to show respect for even as your chewin’ them out is something that I just find so hilarious! It’s a linguistically artful way of telling somebody off while still remaining polite despite the fact that what you’re yelling may well be laced with swear words and insults.

To give you an idea of how funny this concept is (at least to a native English speaker living in Italy), here are some masterful examples of the vocalizations you might hear when people “politely argue” in Italian. Please note: to get the most out of these, you really should  envision them being said in a posh British accent.

  • Good sir, I heartily insist that you keep your !@%#ing dog’s mouth shut!
  • I should find it swell if you would stop double parking your sh!& box of a moped in front of my mother!@%#ing car!
  • Would you be so kind as to go take a good sh!& for yourself, you !@%#ing idiot!
  • Hello there, outspoken b!+ch! Please refrain from busting my !@%#ing balls!
  • It is with the utmost respect that I entreat you to go !@%# thyself … with vim and vigor, mind you!

So, the translations of what was being said in Italian are not exactly spot on, but since English doesn’t have the formal “you” there was no other way to really convey the idea. Plus, it gives me a valid excuse to use lots of bad words!

Now I won’t be the one to write down any Italian swear words here in this article, but if you guys want to leave a comment with any Italian parolacce that you may know, I certainly won’t be able to !@%#ing stop you! 🙂


25 thoughts on “You are cordially invited to buzz the hell off

  1. Even better of the formal you, we have another formal way of speaking: it’s VOI.
    Seconda persona plurale.
    Si usa quasi esclusivamente in meridione ma da ascoltare è meraviglioso, soprattutto nelle forse come VOSSIA, molto Padrino.

  2. The best was the girl in the outskirts of Rome shouting with vim and vigor “I will open your A$$” as a road rage threat. So graphic… so colorful.

    • That girl WAS pretty angry, but not as angry as the time you drunkenly yelled “You fat sh!t” out the window of the car to a skinny jogging woman while eating a large tub of butter-layered movie theater popcorn….

  3. Ciao Garrett

    I think it’s all because if you use “lei” , you convey distance, while if you use “tu” you, there is solidarity. Lack of solidarity is a good thing if you want to quarrell.The only exception to this scheme are some up-down relations: older people tend to use “tu” when speaking to younger people – and younger people respond with “lei”.

    Anyway, your english translations were really funny!

      • Yes! In fact, my mother used to address her mother – but not her father – with “VOI”. It’s not that strange, though. In english, “voi” (=you) is the only form left in use. And Her Majesty QE2 is the only person left using “WE” instead of “I”.


  4. When I taught college and HS Italian, I loved to use “Vaffanculo” as an example of raddoppiamento fonosintattico (the doubling of the consonant that follows an accented vowel). Of course I had kids walking around telling each other to f-off, but at least they were doing it in Italian! What language teacher wouldn’t be proud??

    • Awesome! Well, “vaffanculo” is a swear word, but it does exemplify what you wanted to teach!

      I always teach my students bad words in English (though, they’re not in High School).

  5. Amusing 🙂 It doesn’t strike me at all, as in French, we also have “tu” and “vous,” but it’s true that it gives an additional dimension in relationships and/or discussions. Using “tu” to a stranger in a dispute can also be used as a sign of disrespect, whereas intentionally keeping the “vous” may also be away of saying “I’m keeping the so called polite form as a way of saying we’ll never be friends and I don’t even want to get anywhere near you”. It’s all in the nuance of the tone.

  6. Hahahah!
    We use “lei” in an ironical way, when we are screaming of course! We are champion in use rude languages and in irony!
    I could teach you some creative insults but i’m too shy to do it on a blog LOL
    insult are “intercalari” in a true italian sentence 😀
    The one I use most often is “minchia!” that’s a Southern Italy solution to say “cazzo” that’s more international haha!!
    Enjoy using my minchia! (Ok, it sounds very bad but I like it for this reason.)

    • Oh, I am not as innocent as I seem! 😉 I know all about minchia and cazzo and lots of other bad words too! I just didn’t want to sully my blog with those bad words! 🙂 And I agree, Italians are the best at rude word arguing!

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