Inspiring Italian idioms and sayings

Think about the Italian language. You’re swooning aren’t you? Of course you are, it’s as natural as gelato; you can’t help yourself but indulge in it.  Just thinking about it makes me sigh, that musical sing-songy nature which oozes charm and romance.  No wonder it’s admired the world over.  

I’ve written before about how beautiful the Italian language is and how, without understanding it, it’s possible to fall in love with a conversation about a vacuum cleaner. It ebbs and flows and is accentuated by the passion of the speaker which luckily in Italian comes in abundance. But not only does it sound poetic, it also has a multitude of interesting sayings and idioms.

Considering that Italian is such a modern language, it’s only been around for 150 years or so following Italian unification, it is still peppered with local dialect and regional phrases which vastly vary from area to area.  The local dialects reign, particularly when people are telling stories as there are simply more ways to be creative in the local tongue.

As an English teacher I’m fascinated by language and no more so than with the idioms and sayings that exist in different languages. So I’ve put together a few of my favourites, those which are acceptable to publish of course!

Italian Idioms and Sayings

in bocca al lupoIn bocca al lupo! Literally: In the wolf’s mouth! And it comes with it’s own response, “Crepi” meaning may the wolf die! This is the Italian way of saying good luck. Sounds strange? Well it is. It comes from old hunting talk, the idea being that if you are in danger  you are caught within the jaws of a dangerous wolf so by killing the wolf you are free to have good fortune. Well it’s certainly interesting…

Non avere peli sulla lingua.  Translation: To not have hair on the tongue. This phrase is used when somebody speaks bluntly without holding back.  It’s used to describe someone who might be a bit outspoken as in, “Marco non ha peli sulla lingua, he always says exactly what he thinks”. I have no idea why, perhaps hair in your mouth stops you from talking freely.

img_7479Conosco i miei polli.  LiterallyI know my chickens. This delightful phrase has nothing to do with farming, it means I know who I’m dealing with.  If you know your chickens you are well aware of the capabilities of those around you regardless of how they may appear.

Vuole avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca  Literally: He wants to have the barrel full and the wife drunk! This is the equivalent of the English to have your cake and eat it, but way more Italian.

img_7478Hai voluta la bicicletta… adesso pedala! Translation: You wanted the bike now pedal! This is the equivalent of  “You’ve made your bed now lie in it”, if you’ve made a choice live with the consequences and stop complaining!!

La gaddhina faci l’ovu e alu gaddhu ‘nci bruscia u culu   Translation:  The hen lays the egg but the cockerel feels the pain.  When you do something but somebody else says how difficult it has been for them, this is when you need this phrase (said in deep Calabrese dialect!) For instance, when you are awake all night with your baby who refuses to sleep while your husband snores peacefully next to you and then the next morning he wakes and says “I’m so tired”, this is when you need this idiom!

Cu pecura si faci u lupu sa mangia  Translation: He who is the sheep is eaten by the wolf. Yep another wolf idiom, these Italians love their animal idioms. This one means “He who shows weakness will be exploited by those who are stronger”.  Generally used to encourage somebody to have strength in the face of adversity.

Which of these idioms is your favourite? Are there others you know of or prefer? let me know in the comments below.

For a fascinating post on another Calabrese idiom check out this article from theitalianmidday





20 thoughts on “Inspiring Italian idioms and sayings

  1. Wow! Very interesting. I like “In bocca al lupo!” and “Hai voluta la bicicletta… adesso pedala!” sayings. The first one, because it is a positive saying of wishing someone well, and the second because the recipient of the saying (usually) deserves what’s coming to him/her.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lol, my favorite is: Vuole avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca… but the thing I like more than its meaning is how you explained it: “This is the equivalent of the English to have your cake and eat it, but way more Italian.”

    I enjoyed this very much, thank you! I’m going to Italy in June and everything I read about it makes me more and more excited.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ohhh, I like the second to last. This happens all the time, and you’re just like: “What?!” Great to hear that there’s a perfect saying for those situations! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved this!!! I love language, I’m bilingual in English and Spanish and the next language that I’d love to learn is Italian! Such an interesting article!!

    Liked by 1 person

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