When you are speaking to an an Italian, it won’t be long before they throw an expression at you.
It always starts with something like, “In Italy we say…,” then they go into the translation, the meaning, and the relevance to the conversation. I love this about Italians!
My partner, Tommaso and his family own Bellavista Impruneta, a century-old hotel and restaurant in Tuscany. Beppe and Roberta, the mom and dad, run the show. It can get pretty crazy around there during high season.
If you are anywhere near the kitchen, you will hear Beppe say, with pure exasperation and certainly a hand gesture, “Che disperazione!”- Oh! The despair! The desperation! In fact, he says it so much, one of the cooks thought he would be cheeky and got a t-shirt with this phrase printed on it.
Here are some of my favorite Italian idioms and expressions. I love they can be tied back to an expression we say in English. That’s the beauty of Romance languages- a common linguistic background.
Buono come il pane!
“As good as bread!”
As you can imagine, many idiomatic expressions center around food in Italy. This literally means, “Nothing is better than bread.” We would say, “As good as gold.”
Ad ogni morte di Papa
“Every time a Pope dies”
Our equivalent would be, “Once in a blue moon.”
Chi dorme non piglia pesci
“One who does not catch the fish”
In English, we would say, “The early bird catches the worm.”
Hai voluto la bicicletta? Allora, pedala!
“You wanted a bike? Now pedal!”
Or, “You made your bed, so you must lie on it.”
In Bocca al Lupo
“Into the wolf’s mouth”
Oddly enough, this means, “Good luck.” It doesn’t stop there, it is essential that you respond with “Crepi,” which means “die.” I hope this means the wolf.
Don’t judge, we say “Break a leg.”
Avere la Botte Piena e la Moglie Ubriaca
“To have the wine cask full and the wife drunk”
This has to be one of my favorites. It basically means to have your cake and eat it, too.
Dalle Stelle alle Stalle
“To go from the stars to the horse stalls”
Or to fall from grace.
Fuori di Testa
“Out[side] of your mind”
In northern Italy it is sometimes used in the phrase “Fuori come un balcone” – Out[side] like the balcony. In Tuscany they would say “Fuori come un terrazzo”- Out[side] like the terrace.
We would say “out of your mind” or “crazy as a loon.”
Peli Sulla Lingua
“Hairs on the tongue”
“He doesn’t have hairs on his tongue,” meaning, to tell it like it is, without flattery.
This next one could be considered offensive, so proceed with caution…
Tira piu’ un pelo di fi*a che un carro di buoi
(* = g or c, depending on what region you are from)
“A ummm… woman’s vagina hair pulls [attracts] more than an oxcart”
Ok, the word is not vagina, but this site is PG! (Feel free to throw it into Google Translate.)
This is a really old saying, meaning, the sexual power of the woman overcomes all else!
If you learn some of these expressions and you follow my tips on how to be a traveler, not a tourist- you will fit right in with the Italians.