Are you a pizza? Here are some of the most hilarious everyday Italian expressions that you’ll hear on the ‘strada’ and in the ‘piazza’.
One of the best parts of learning a foreign language is laughing at literal translations. These are usually found in idiomatic expressions. For example, to say colloquially in Italian, ‘I like you a lot’ translates to ‘Mi piaci un sacco’ or ‘I like you a sack’. This is one of the most common Italian expressions out there.
Not surprisingly a lot of idiomatic expressions have the same translation in other foreign languages, but the most interesting and telling part is when they are totally different because they offer an insight into the cultural aspect of the people who speak it. Take the exclamation and insult “You’re a bore!”, the Italians, famous for their Pizza would say “Sei una pizza!”, meaning “You’re a pizza”.
A personal favourite of mine (because it mentions my family name) is when Italians want to call someone a butterfingers, ‘Avere le mani di pasta Frolla’ which literally translates ‘To have pastry hands’.
Since I started studying Italian and during my 3 years in Rome, I was always drawn to learning idiomatic expressions. I bought un sacco of books that I would study and then put into practice. Using expressions in any language makes you feel more at ease and comfortable with using the language. It also impresses and surprises the locals when a foreigner has both learnt them and knows when to apply them correctly.
I’ve compiled a list of my favourite everyday Italian idiomatic expressions that will induce a bit of a giggle when you read their literal translations.
1. In bocca al lupo
Pronunciation: [In bok-kah al loo-poh]
Literal translation: In the mouth of the wolf
Meaning: Good luck! Break a leg!
2. Piovere a catinelle
Pronunciation: [Pee-yoh-ver-reh ah ka-ti-nel-leh]
Literal translation: To rain wash basins
Meaning: To rain like cat’s and dogs
3. Ubriaco come una scimmia
Pronunciation: [u-bri-ah-koh koh-meh u-nah shim-mee-yah]
Literal translation: Drunk like a monkey
Meaning: To be wasted
4. La goccia che ha fatto traboccare il vaso
Pronunciation: [Lah goh-chah keh ah faht-toh tra-bok-kah-reh eel va-zoh]
Literal translation: The drop that made the vase overflow
Meaning: The straw the broke the camel’s back
5. Avere la Botte Piena e la Moglie Ubriaca
Pronunciation: [Ah-veh-reh lah bot-teh pee-eh-nah eh lah mol-yeh u-bri-ah-kah]
Literal translation: To have a full bottle of wine and a drunk wife
Meaning: to have your cake and eat it too
6. Non Avere Peli Sulla Lingua
Pronunciation: [Non Ah-veh-reh peh-li sul-lah ling-gwah]
Literal translation: to not have hairs on the tongue
Meaning: speaks plainly, say it like it is
7. Prendere in giro
Pronunciation: [pren-der-reh in ji-roh]
Literal translation: to take for a spin
Meaning: to tease or take the mickey out of someone
8. Non vedo l’ora
Pronunciation: [Non veh-doh lor-rah]
Literal translation: Can’t see the time
Meaning: I can’t wait (from excitement)
9. Scoprire gli altarini
Pronunciation: [Skoh-pri-reh leh aal-ta-ree-knee]
Literal translation: To discover little altars
Meaning: To let the cat out of the bag
10. Arrampicarsi sugli specchi
Pronunciation: [Ah-ramp-pee-kah-si sul-yee spek-key]
Literal translation: To climb on mirrors
Meaning: To clutch at straws
11. Essere al verde
Pronunciation: [Es-sir-reh al verr-deh]
Literal translation: to be at the green
Meaning: To be flat broke
12. Reggere la candela
Pronunciation: [Rej-jer-reh lah can-del-lah]
Literal translation: to hold the candle
Meaning: To be the third wheel
13. Rompere le scatole
Pronunciation: [Romp-peh-reh leh ska-toh-leh]
Literal translation: to break boxes
Meaning: to get on someone’s nerves
14. Avere culo
Pronunciation: [Ah-veh-reh ku-loh]
Literal translation: To have arse
Meaning: To be very lucky, to fall on one’s feet
15. Essere alla frutta
Pronunciation: [es-sir-reh al-lah froot-tah]
Literal translation: To be at the fruit
Meaning: To hit rock-bottom
17. Porca miseria!
Pronunciation: [Por-kah mi-zer-ree-ah]
Literal translation: Pigs misery
Meaning: Damn it!
18. Fa un Freddo Cane
Pronunciation: [Fah-reh oon fred-doh ka-neh]
Literal translation: It’s dog cold
Meaning: It’s freezing cold
19. Avere le Braccine Corte
Pronunciation: [Ah-veh-reh leh bratch-chee-neh kor-teh]
Literal translation: To Have Short Arms
Meaning: To be stingy, because your arms are so short that they can’t reach your pockets.
20. Girare la frittata
Pronunciation: [Jee-rah-reh lah frit-tah-tah]
Literal translation: to turn the omelette
Meaning: Turn the tables in one’s favour
Plus, if you want to know how the experts learn languages, I asked 11 top polyglots to share their language learning secrets. Find out how they start learning a new language, overcome plateaus, and maintain multiple languages.
Over to you!
Which of these Italian expressions is your favourite? What others do you know? Leave a comment, in bocca al lupo!
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Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.
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