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Google translator says the meaning of the expression "vuol dire"

as in

"Cosa vuol dire apologia di reato?"

is "it means".

Is this meaning context specific? I mean, can I always translate "vuol dire" as it means or sometimes this translation does not fit? Is this some kind of idiom? I'm asking this because the third person form (in the present tense) of volere is vuole, not vuol, so I imagine this is some kind of idiomatic expression...

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    Those are actually two different issues. Vuole (in any sense) is in some cases written vuol. And vuole dire or vuol dire has often that particular meaning.
    – DaG
    Jul 23 at 14:36
  • Google? You sent a chill down my spine. Jul 23 at 21:41
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If you look for "volere dire" at De Mauro's dictionary, you will see that this is a common ("CO") verbal expression that can have the following meaning:

1 significare: cosa vuol dire questa parola?

That is, if you say, as in the above example,

cosa vuol(e) dire questa parola?

you are asking

cosa significa questa parola?

a question that could be translated to English as "what does this word mean?".

It's quite usual to say "vuol dire" instead of "vuole dire": this phenomenon is called apocope or troncamento (i.e., truncation) and has been treated in previous questions and answers: see, for instance, Why use the apocopic form “voler (vivere)”?. In fact, as you can read in the article "troncamento" of Treccani encyclopedia,

Il fenomeno è invece scarsamente diffuso nelle regioni centromeridionali, in cui compare comunemente solo in espressioni cristallizzate nell’uso, come vuol dire, si suol dire, ma è per il resto piuttosto raro e da molti percepito come caratteristica di un parlato ricercato

"vuol dire" is nowadays a crystallized expression, so it's even commonly used in the central-southern regions of Italy, where the "troncamento" phenomenon isn't widespread in usual registers.

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can I always translate "vuol dire" as "it means"

No: often, but not always. There are at least two cases where this does not apply.

Case 1: when the subject is a person, "vuol dire" probably means "he/she wants to say..." or "he/she is trying to say...". Example: a guy wants to speak at a microphone, and some moderator asks: "Che cosa vuol dire?" (What he is going to say?)

Case 2: sometimes the idiomatic phrase "[E] che vuol dire?" means "That has no importance" or "I don't care". Example: I say "Voglio una birra" (I want a beer) and my wife says "Ne hai già bevuta una" (You had one already). Then, because I really want another beer, I say "E che vuol dire? Ne voglio un'altra" (So what? I want another one).

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