An Italian guide to American lingo


More than 357,000 people who were born in Italy are currently living in the United States and over 17 million Italian-Americans claim Italian ancestry.

This helps explain why Little Italy's are common across the country and why Americans are equally obsessed with pizza, pasta and gelato.

To help Italian speakers adjust to living in the United States, we’ve rounded up 9 of the most confusing words and phrases that are sure to help "y’all" in everyday conversation.

Buck Up

The expression “Buck up” in America means to cheer up or to summon the courage to carry out an act.

Because “buck” is also slang for an American dollar, it’s easy to confuse the two.

Gian Franco, who made the move from Milan to Miami, explains:

“My friend told me to “buck up” and try again when I didn’t get an interview for a job I really wanted. Needless to say, she was pretty confused when I handed her a dollar.”

Shoot the Breeze


The expression “shoot the breeze” is understandably confusing for expats who’ve just moved to a country where everyone seems to have their own handgun.

If an American tells you that they don’t mind you being late because they took the opportunity to “shoot the breeze” with their neighbor, they don’t mean that they went to the shooting range in the meantime. Instead, “shoot the breeze” here simply means that they were killing time with idle chit-chat.

The term comes from the olden times, where cowboys in the Wild West had nothing better to do than shoot at random targets for no particular reason.

Pony Up

Asking someone to “pony up” in America doesn’t mean that they’re about to go horse back riding, it simply means to pay up or settle your account.


"Don’t knock it ‘til you try it” is a popular phrase in the USA. The term “knock” means to speak negatively about or badmouth something.

PDA (Public Displays of Affection)


Here in America, PDA stands for public displays of affection and like most Europeans, we feel no shame about exhibiting acts of physical intimacy in front of strangers.

You can often find us holding hands, kissing or cuddling in public - we just have our own slang for it. But depending on who you ask and in what context, the term can be used as a positive or negative.


If an American casually tells you that they’re going to “nix” something, they don’t mean “nick”, as in steal something small. Using the word “nix” here means that they’re going to put an end to or cancel something.

For example:

“I was thinking of doing a California road trip from San Francisco to San Jose and San Diego. But I only have one week for vacation now, so I think I’m going to nix San Jose.”

Lighten Up


Understandably, if someone tells you to “lighten up,", you might become a little concerned about your weight. But in America, the expression actually means that they think you should relax and not take things so seriously.

Giuliana explains:

“The first time that someone told me to lighten up, I became self-conscious about all the pasta that my extended family in Jersey makes me to eat. Needless to say I was pretty relieved when I realized that it had nothing to do with my figure!”


While you might be quick to assume that “clutch” refers to a women’s hand bag, all sports fans in the US know that clutch means getting "exactly what you need, exactly when you need it.”

“There was only 2 seconds left in the game when he hit that jump shot. LeBron James is so clutch.”

Piece of Cake

When something is effortless or easy, American’s like to say that it was a “piece of cake."

Giovanni, an Italian expat in New York explains:

“When my roommate first told me that getting use to using the subway here would be a “piece of cake,” I sincerely thought that she was going to give me a map of the transit system and an actual piece of cake!”

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