I often heard people saying "Boh!" especially, but not only, when I stayed in Rome.

However, I'm unsure what the intended meaning of "Boh!" is, either in Rome or elsewhere. Does it mean I don't know, I don't want to say, I'm not interested, or something else?

Thus, I would like to know what a non-native speaker should deduce when they hear "Boh!" Please don't answer with "Boh!"

  • Boh! is very very common among us Italians, used in a variety of circumstances - as explained above. I tend to use it even among non-native speakers, who in turn look at me with puzzled looks. Then I explain :-) .
    – piffy
    Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 15:38
  • BOH means: I don't know, I don't really care, I don't think anybody should care about it... All at the same time
    – Pejo
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 14:00
  • @Pejo: Welcome on ItalianSE! Good point of view but could you elaborate more your answer and give more details?
    – abarisone
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 15:29

7 Answers 7


'Boh' means 'I do not know', with all its nuances:

  • I don't know,
  • I know but I am not gonna tell you,
  • I don't know and I don't care,
  • I am confused
  • etc.

I've been looking around for the etymology of this word but it seems not to be available.

  • 16
    I'd just stick to plain "I don't know", everything else is speculation IMHO
    – o0'.
    Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 19:32
  • I think it's just means I don't know the other translations are not valid
    – G M
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 11:46

I was watching an Italian movie once, in Italian, with Italian subtitles. If I remember the name of the movie I'll edit this post later. One of the characters said "Boh!" in conversation, and for some reason the subtitles translated it to "Non lo so!"

I feel like the two best translations to English (depending on context) are "Meh" and the humming variant of "I dunno," although I have no idea how to spell that. If you're the speaker you can use it for either/or.

  • 1
    My first instinct was "Meh" also -- it just sounds as though one is not interested in the outcome or in answering the comment or question!
    – Mrs_MG
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 22:05

Boh means doubt, indifference, unwillingness to talk about something or to express an opinion. It's widely used in the Roman dialect (but not only). One possible explanation of its etymology is the sound that one produces when wants to express uncertainty.
A non-native speaker should pay attention to the context, where Boh! appears, and then it's quite easy to deduce its meaning, because it usually appears in response to something.

  • that cruscante didn't think it trough. boh is "the sound that one produces when wants to express uncertainty" only in italy.
    – carlo
    Commented Aug 11, 2020 at 15:22

Boh is used to mean uncertainty, indifference, disbelief, contempt; it is similar to bah which is used to express uncertainty, hopelessness, disbelief, contempt, and mah that express doubt, uncertainty.

The first two words are onomatopoeic, while mah comes from Latin măgis.

  • 1
    “Mah” is simply another way of writing “ma” (possibily to stress the fact that it is being used as an interjection), which is indeed derived from magis: treccani.it/vocabolario/ma2
    – DaG
    Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 13:21

I think that the closest translation in English should be:


So in formal English is translated as "I don't know".If you analyze some example of dunno form merriam-webster they can be translated with boh :

“Whatʼre those things?” whispered Ron. “Dunno,” said Harry. — J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2003

Cosa sono quelle cose? bisbigliò Ron. "Boh..." disse Harry

From the wiktionary

Puoi pagare il mio biglietto? Boh, devo vedere se ho i soldi.

Can you pay for my ticket? I don't know, I'll need to check if I have the money.

Any other meaning is purely a conjecture

It's not implicit any other meaning like "I know but I am not gonna tell you", "I don't know and I don't care", "I am confused". So if Italians say to you "Boh" usually they not trying to hide you something or avoid answering, they just don't know.


I live in Rome. The word "boh" usually is used to say "I don't know". But you have to pay attention in which contest is used. In fact it could be used to say: "I have no idea". This last mean's different from the first cause it is more general.

-- What time does the match start?
-- Boh (I didn't know it will be a match!)

I hope you will understand! :) Good bye

  • 1
    Welcome to Italian.SE!
    – Charo
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 14:04
  • I don't know if the example provided is actually meaningful. Personally I never used or heard "boh" used with that meaning.
    – user525
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 14:51

"Boh" means quite simply "I don't have a clue".


often saying it implies "Why the heck are you asking me, since there is no reason whatsoever for which I am supposed to know it"

So, there might be a light intent of reprimand towards the asker when someone says "boh".

  • 1
    I don't think I agree with this answer. In my experience boh is often used without any negative connotation.
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Jul 22, 2020 at 9:46

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