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Italian Idioms

questionAnyone who has ever tried to explain his or her own language’s slang terms to someone who isn’t familiar with them knows how strange they can be. (Fit as a fiddle? Seriously? You ever see a violin doing push-ups? I didn’t think so.) Well, if you’ve ever been mildly embarrassed by the abundance of weird sayings in your language, fear not – there are just as many in every other language. That goes for Italian, and sometimes doubly so.

Some of my favorites include:

  • Non ti perdere in un bicchier d’acqua – Don’t get lost in a glass of water (or, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill)
  • Lui guida una vecchia caffettiera – He’s driving an old coffeepot (or, he’s driving an old heap)
  • L’asino chiama orecchia lunga il cavallo – The donkey says the horse has long ears (or, the pot calling the kettle black)
  • Non fare il passo più lungo della gamba – Don’t make your step longer than your leg (or, don’t bite off more than you can chew)
  • Qualcosa bolle in pentola – Something’s boiling in the pot (or, something’s up)

But perhaps the one that gives me the most giggles (because I’m a cat owner maybe?) is: Tanto va la gatta al lardo, che ci lascia lo zampino. It’s supposed to mean “If you sneak out often enough, you’re eventually going to get caught,” or something like that – but the literal translation is “The cat goes so many times to the bacon that sooner or later it will leave a footprint.” Brilliant.

For more Italian idiomatic fun, Deirdré at “Beginning with I” has listed several here, and there’s also a book called Italian Idioms (which I have and enjoy). The book isn’t just for silliness, either – it’s just an excellent dictionary for Italian idioms.

All I have to say in closing is that if you’re struggling to learn Italian idioms along with the rest of the Italian language, in bocca al lupo.*

* See Deirdré’s post for the translation.