Research tells us that laughing improves your memory. So, what better way to learn a language than by consuming these hilarious food-related Italian sayings.
Before we get to the juicy Italian sayings. Ask yourself, do you have trouble remembering things? Then you need to start laughing! The idea might sound silly but hear me out.
An early study conducted in 2014 by Loma Linda University in California, found that the less stress a person has, the better their memory is. Humour reduces cortisol which significantly elevates one’s mood making it conducive to learning. The endorphins produced, aid the immune system to work better, improving brain wave activity to what is called “gamma frequency,” which is an amped recall and memory.
This is an important principle that everyone should implement; especially when it comes to learning a language. It’s especially important because a significant number of people will quit due to boredom and lack of variety.
By applying this principle means you could potentially laugh yourself to fluency!
How to Make Language Learning Enjoyable
Easy! Start learning topics that interest you. Kind of like those times you met a foreigner and asked them how to swear in their language. Swear words are fun, and that’s why you always remember them.
Another topic is idioms or expressions. For me, when I first started learning Italian back in 2006, all I wanted to do was bury my head in books of idiomatic expressions. Learning quirky phrases and finding reasons to slip them into a conversation was one of my favourite parts of speaking Italian.
Why? Well, not only are Italian sayings wonderfully colourful and often amusing, but they also reveal a lot about the language.
Learning idiomatic phrases has three benefits. Firstly, it plays an essential part in helping you sound like a native. Secondly, using idioms helps you express exactly what you mean. And of course, now we know the enjoyment you gain from learning them will improve your ability to remember them! So, it’s a win-win WIN situation!
26 reasons to laugh with these Italian idioms
To ensure you get I’m going to share some hilarious Italian food-related sayings, insults, and expressions.
It seems only natural that the language of a culture with such a delicious cuisine would be peppered (no pun intended) with sayings referring to pizza, pasta, meatballs, and even parsley get a mention!
So, here is a list of common Italian sayings with their literal translations plus their English equivalents.
1. Fare polpette di qualcuno
Literally: To make meatballs of someone.
English equivalent: To make mincemeat of someone.
2. Che pizza!
Literally: What a pizza!
English equivalent: What a bore!
For Italians, pizza is a staple food which is nothing new to them and can so be considered as boring.
3. Sei come il prezzemolo!
Literally: You’re like parsley!
English equivalent: You turn up everywhere!
Parsley is a common ingredient found in many Italian dishes, so if you’re like parsley, then it means you pop up everywhere or are in the way.
4. Avere la faccia da pesce lesso
Literally: Have a face of a boiled fish.
English equivalent: Have a slack-jaw.
Someone who looks uninteresting and uninterested, not someone you want to make friends with.
5. Avere le mani di pasta frolla
Literally: To have pastry dough hands.
English equivalent: To be a butterfingers.
A personal favourite, this one describes someone who is clumsy and unable to hold something without dropping it.
English equivalent: Heck! Darn! Bugger!
“Cavolo” is a less aggressive way of saying the far more offensive “cazzo”, comparable to the English-language’s sh*t or f**k.
For example: “Che cavolo vuoi?” (literally: what the cabbage do you want?) meaning “What the hell do you want?”
7. Non fare il salame!
Literally: Don’t act like salami!
English equivalent: Don’t be an idiot!
To be clumsy, slow, silly, or very naive and gullible.
8. Conosco i miei polli
Literally: I know my chickens.
English equivalent: To know like the back of your hand.
Another common Italian food found in many dishes, Italian or otherwise. Knowing your chicken (the basics), means you know what you’re talking about.
9. Avere sale in zucca
Literally: You’ve got salt on your pumpkin.
English equivalent: You’re smart as a whip, have your head screwed on.
“Zucca” can also colloquially mean ‘head’. To an Italian, you’re clever if you know to sprinkle salt on pumpkin and other winter squashes to balance its natural sweetness.
10. È buono come il pane
Literally: He’s good like bread.
English equivalent: To be a good egg or good person.
11. C’entra come i cavoli a merenda
Literally: As appropriate as cabbage for a snack.
English equivalent: Having nothing to do with, stick out like a sore thumb.
12. Finire a tarallucci e vino
Literally: To end up with tarallucci (cookies/biscuits) and wine.
English equivalent: All’s well that ends well.
When a dispute or unpleasantness ends amicably, it basically means not to worry, everything’s going to be just fine.
13. O mangi la minestra o salti dalla finestra
Literally: Eat this soup or jump out the window.
English equivalent: It’s my way or the highway.
Used in situations where there are no alternatives.
14. Volere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca
Literally: To want a full bottle and a drunk wife.
English equivalent: You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
This expressions means you can’t have the best of both worlds. Someone has got to remain sober in the house, right?
15. Dire pane al pane e vino al vino
Literally: To call bread, bread and wine, wine.
English equivalent: To call a spade a spade.
To speak frankly.
16. Avere il prosciutto sugli occhi
Literally: To have ham over your eyes.
English equivalent: Have your head in the sand.
17. Una ciliegia tira l’altra
Literally: One cherry leads to another.
English equivalent: To be moreish (something you can’t stop eating).
18. Chi si loda, s’imbroda
Literally: He who praises himself, gets broth all over himself.
English equivalent: To toot one’s horn.
People who compliment themselves lack credibility.
19. Non è farina del mio sacco
Literally: That’s not flour from my sack.
English equivalent: It wasn’t my idea.
20. Non m’importa un fico secco
Literally: I don’t give a dried fig.
English equivalent: I don’t give a damn.
21. Sta come il cacio sui maccheroni
Literally: It’s like cheese on pasta.
English equivalent: It fits it to a T, perfect combination.
The total opposite of “cavoli a merenda”.
22. Cascarci come una pera (cotta)
Literally: To fall for something/someone like a (baked) pear.
English equivalent: Fall for it, fall head over heels.
To be tricked by or to become infatuated with someone.
23. Essere un polentone
Literally: To be a polenta eater.
English equivalent: To be a slowcoach/slowpoke.
Someone who is physically slow, awkward, goofy.
24. Che baccalà!
Literally: What a salted cod!
English equivalent: What a fool!
25. Rendere pan per focaccia
Literally: To give back bread for focaccia.
English equivalent: An eye for an eye, tit for tat.
26. Avere le mani in pasta
Literally: To have the hands in the dough.
English equivalent: Have a finger in every pie, to be very well connected.
Learn Italian with my 80/20 building-block method
Travelling to Italy? Don’t be treated like a tourist! Live your best travel experiences and learn Italian for less than the cost of eating at a tourist trap restaurant or a taxi driver who has “taken you for a ride”. In addition to my free Italian travel phrase guides, I’ve made it even easier for you to master the Italian language so you can create lifelong memories as you mingle with locals, get local tips, avoid tourist traps, and make new friends. Who knows you, you may even be invited over for afternoon tea by a lovely Sicilian family like I was! Read all about how speaking Italian changed my life and check out The Intrepid Guide Languages courses here.
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Heading to Italy? Download my free Italian Travel Phrase guide here.
Learning Italian? Check out these Italian language guides
- How to Conjugate Italian Verbs in 3 Simple Steps [Italian for Beginners]
- 125 Most Common Italian Phrases for Travel You’ll Ever Need [PLUS Printable]
- Master Days of the Week in Italian (7 Simple Memory Hacks)
- Italian Numbers: How to Count in Italian From 0 to 1 Billion (Audio & PDF Download)
- 41 Italian Greetings: How to Say ‘Hello’ in Italian Like a Local
- 15 Italian Words You Should NEVER Mispronounce [& How Not To]
- 11 Effective Hacks That’ll Help You Learn Italian So Much Faster
- Top 14 Italian Words You Should NEVER Say [& What to Use Instead]
- 20 Hilarious Everyday Italian Expressions You Should Use
- Romanesco: 25 Cool Roman Dialect Words You Should Use in Rome
- 10 Reasons Why Learning Italian Will Change Your Life
- How to Learn Italian Before Your Trip
- 10 Italian Expressions Italians Love Saying
- 10 Italian Phrases That Will Instantly Make You Sound more Italian
- 15 Romantic Italian Films That’ll Make You Love Italy Even More
- How to Master Common Italian Phrases for Travel (Like a Local!)
Over to you!
Which of these Italian sayings do you love? Do you know any others?
Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.
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