Italian idioms are one of the most colorful ways to express yourself with native speakers. Besides Italian swear words.
While learning Italian words and grammar are necessary to speak the language with confidence, it’s only step 1.
Think about this in English.
We use English idioms everyday without even noticing, and it’s a signal for other people that you can speak it fluently. The question is, which Italian idioms are the most useful to learn? Unless you have a photographic memory, you’re going to want to start with only a handful of phrases to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
To help you save time, we’ve gathered 13 of the most popular Italian idioms that will have you on the floor laughing. The following expressions are not always the kindest things to say. But we want to teach you these so that you’ll know when someone is talking bad about you as well. Also, these are just plain hilarious to use in any conversation.
Let’s get started.
13 Hilarious Italian Idioms That You Can Use In Any Conversation
Start by skimming through these then revisit them at the end to pick your favorite ones to learn.
1. Andare in bianco
Meaning: To go white
This Italian idiom has a lot of different meaning, mainly because the word ‘white’ can mean that you fear something. For example, when someone tries to rob you out of nowhere at night, your face will go pitch white. In Italian however, going ‘white’ usually means that you failed while trying to pursue a girl or boy.
2. Non avere peli sulla lingua
Meaning: Without hair on his tongue
When you ask someone to say something ‘without hair on his tongue’, it means you want them to tell you the honest truth without holding back. If you’re asking someone else to do this for you, make sure your feelings are prepared.
3. Minestra riscaldata
Meaning: Reheated soup
Whether it’s a romantic partner or a project that you’re working on, ‘reheated soup’ is when you lose interest in something. Likely due to lack of originality and variety.
4. Far vedere i sorci verdi
Meaning: To make someone eat green rats
This expression has a dark history, as it goes back to the 1930’s when the Italian dictator, Mussolini, was in charge. The airpilots adopted 3 green rats as a way to brag that even rats can defeat the enemy.
Today, when someone uses this phrase on you (or you on them), it means that you’re about to defeat the enemy with ease.
5. Avere le braccine corte
Meaning: To have short arms
Cheap people, the ones who seem to go to the washroom when the bill comes, are referred to as ‘short arms’. As a visualization, imagine a big round table where the check arrives in the middle. The person with the shortest arm will ‘attempt’ to reach it, but fail to do so before anyone else.
Hmmm… strange right? Hopefully this isn’t you. If so, at least you’ll know what your Italian friends are saying about you.
6. In bocca al lupo
Meaning: Into the mouth of the wolf
You can also use ‘In culo alla balena’, which means ‘In the whale’s ass’. This makes zero sense when you directly translate it, but that’s why we’re here. Like the way the English say ‘knock on wood’ for good luck, ‘in bocca al lupo’ has a similar meaning.
7. Si chiama Pietro e torna indietro
Meaning: Its name is Peter and I want it back
Another one of these Italian idioms that make little sense. Peter is just a fill-in name that is used to describe an object that you’re lending to someone. So when someone asks: ‘Hey, can I borrow your pen?’, you can say ‘Yes, but its name is Peter and I want it back.’
Don’t use this in English as it has no direct translation.
8. Sputa il rospo
Meaning: Spit the toad
Finally an easier one that we can relate to. You’ve probably heard the expression ‘to have a frog in my throat’ when you’re unable to talk. In Italy, toad is more commonly used, and when somenoe says ‘spit the toad’, they’re telling you to speak up freely without hesitation.
9. Morto un papa, se ne fa un altro
Meaning: No one is irreplaceable
The actual translation for this is: ‘one pope dies, another one will be made.’ Given how religious the Italian culture is, you know how serious they take this expression. In short, it means that anyone can be replaced (even the pope).
10. Ha molto sale in zucca
Meaning: Has a lot of salt in his/her pumpkin
In Italian, ‘zucca’ can mean pumpkin but it can also mean ‘human head’. So when someone says that you have a lot of salt in your head, it shows that you have great common sense. Even intelligent!
This goes to show you how much the Italian value their salt in their cuisine.
11. L’abito non fa il monaco
Meaning: The dress does not make the monk
A direct equivalent to: ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ in English.
12. Avere l’argento vivo addosso
Meaning: To have alive silver all over you
Alive silver is another way to describe mercury, which has a very fluid structure. Describing someone as ‘alive silver’ means that they keep fidgeting/moving without any sense of control. Often times, it’s a way to describe a very energetic child but who knows, adults can fit into this category too!
13. Farsene un baffo
Meaning: To make a moustache out of it
Sorry ladies, we don’t mean to exclude you from this one. But we hope you can use your imaginations for this one.
When someone grows out their moustache, you don’t really notice it after awhile. It’s not going to be a constant thought that boggles your mind throughout the day. Right?
OK, so when you make a moustache out of something, it means that it’s not bothering you. Or more specifically, it’s insignificant to you and your well-being.
Start using these Italian idioms today
Woohoo! We’ve made it until the end.
Now let’s help you use these in real-life. Remember, none of these are going to stick to your brain by just reading and skimming them. To retain this information for the long haul, you’re going to need to use them.
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