Italian Idiomatic Expressions: The Ox, The Ass, and Who’s Got Horns


I love Italian idiomatic expressions – those sayings you just can’t translate directly but which make the Italian language the colorful and charming language it is.

Today’s saying comes from a reader, Lucia, who asked for the English equivalent for:

Il bue che dà del cornuto all’asino.

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Lucia said that this saying is, in her experience, used where the person saying it “accuses another of having done something wrong” but the speaker is really the one who’s done something worse. I was unfamiliar with the saying, so I asked my friend Deirdré of the always-informative and entertaining Beginning with I, who told me her Italian husband says it’s a “typically Roman expression,” and roughly translates to “the ox tells the ass he’s got horns,” which is (of course) insane, because it’s the ox who’s got the horns. Deirdré says that it is, therefore, about the same as the English saying, “the pot calling the kettle black.” She also suggests checking out her Italian slang page for more information about “cornuto.” Thanks to Lucia for the Italian phrase, and to Deirdré (and her husband!) for the translation!

I’ll keep sharing Italian idiomatic expressions with you periodically; and if you’ve got a favorite saying, let me know!

If you like this one, check out some of the other Italian idiomatic expressions I’ve posted about, too.

Photo by: Claudio Gennari