11 Italian Expressions You Won’t Find in a Phrase Book
You know how to cook a mean spaghetti carbonara, can put an Italian-born sommelier to shame, and you know everything there is to know about Julius Caesar that you feel as if you were actually born in Ancient Rome. The only thing missing is…you don’t speak a word of Italian.
You could buy yourself a phrase book to accompany you on your trip to Italy, but far more useful and impressive will be some of those expressions that only a local would know. Our Italy Country Manager Federica has put a list of some of these expressions together for those of you who want to learn more than just the basic greetings.
1. Si chiama Pietro e torna indietro (his name is Peter, and he comes back)
This is what every Italian says when someone lends something to someone else. It means that the object is quite important to them and they want it back safe and sound. For example if you ask me to lend you my favourite t-shirt I would say “Be careful, si chiama Pietro, torna indietro!”
2. Non avere peli sulla lingua (not having hairs on the tongue)
It means speaking clearly, without thinking too much, sometimes being brutally honest. It’s the equivalent of saying that a person doesn’t mince their words in English. For example you don’t have peli sulla lingua when you tell your best friend you don’t like her boyfriend!
3. Gettare la spugna (to throw the sponge)
The equivalent to the English expression “to throw in the towel”, Italians use this when we give up. More often, we use it when we want to cheer someone up, for example: “I know it’s hard, but don’t gettare la spugna, you can do it!”
4. Avere una gatta da pelare (to have a cat to peel)
This could seem really funny (or extremely horrible and spine-chilling) but it just means that you have a big issue to face. An example could be “facing global warming is a gatta da pelare”.
5. Avere la luna storta (to have the twisted moon)
You can use it when you want to say you are in a bad mood, and you don’t want to talk about it. When you have a grumpy face for example, someone could ask you if you have la luna storta.
Image Credit: grumpy-m
6. Essere la ciliegina sulla torta (to be the cherry on the cake)
It’s a very nice idiom to say that something is the nicest thing that comes in the end, the perfect final touch. For example when you go shopping and you find the last pair of the perfect jeans you have been looking for months and it’s your size, the ciliegina sulla torta could be that they’re also on sale!
Image Credit: oxygenmedia
7. Sputare il rospo (to spit the toad)
I know it sounds a bit gross, but when you know the meaning you’ll see it’s pretty accurate. It is used when you have to say something you really don’t want to, like a concern or a secret. For example you can ask “what’s wrong with you? Sputa il rospo!”
8. Mettere i puntini sulle i (to put dots on “i”s)
This is an idiom you use when you want to say that someone is pointing out something in a very “know-it-all” way. Like Hermione with her famous “It’s leviOsa, not leviosAR” quote! When someone is annoying you by pointing out every little thing you say, you can tell him that he always puts i puntini sulle i.
9. Non sapere che pesci pigliare (not knowing which fish to catch)
It actually sounds funny, and you can use it when you don’t really know what to do in a difficult situation. For example when you have a cold and try every possible remedy, but nothing seems to work, you don’t know che pesci pigliare next!
10. Reggere la candela (to hold the candle)
This seems to be the Italian equivalent of being a ‘third wheel’. Italians use this expression when they see someone alone with a couple, in a very awkward situation let’s say, where they can just reggere la candela to make the atmosphere more romantic for the couple! If a couple of friends ask you to go out together your answer should always be “Is there anyone else? Cause I don’t want to reggere la candela for you two!”
Image Credit: randar.com
11. Abbiocco (no direct translation!)
It’s impossible to give a translation to this word. It basically means to feel drowsy, especially after a meal, when Italians usually say that the abbiocco “rises”. After a Sunday meal with your family you always hear someone saying “I have the abbiocco now, I ate too much!”
Have these expressions gotten you in the mood to learn some more Italian? Keep your learning going by hosting an Italian-speaking guest.
About the Author: Federica Braga was born 21 years ago in Biella, a little town in the north-west of Italy, not far from Turin. She has (almost) graduated in Foreign Languages applied to Business and Tourism in the University of Aosta Valley and spent a year abroad in Chambéry, attending the University Savoie-Mont Blanc, which granted her a double Italian and French degree. She is now the Italy and Spain Country Manager at GoCambio. She loves travelling, tattoos and nature, and she is planning to get a tattoo in every place that she travels and experiences something important. You can connect with her on Twitter.
COVER IMAGE CREDIT: Dave Kellam