Italian expressions and idioms by Studentessa Matta

The Italian language is full of and colorful expressions, just like the English language. When we become more familiar with the language and we get to know Italian customs and practices we come to appreciate and better understand these surprising and entertaining idioms. The Italian language is full of expressions that are still used but which derive from a previous time, sometimes long ago and forgotten. There are expressions that at first do not make sense to an foreigner. But for an Italian they have all the sense in the world. The expressions are rooted in culture and history and practices of the peasants and farmers.

For example, the expression “to have mercury on you” means to not be able to sit still, to be very restless or lively. Quicksilver i mercury, so named for its color and its extreme mobility gives it the characteristic of being easily divided at the slightest bump. This expression, therefore is used a lot to talk about children. This is a great expression that refers to a person who doesn’t see the obvious things, and in a broader sense someone someone who is not very insightful.

I also really like the expression “smooth as oil”. Because oil is calm – absolutely flat as the waters of the sea or of a lake, this expression means something that goes well without problems or obstacles, something that is done easily.
 
Then there’s the expression: “full as an egg” this expression means that after eating too much, we no longer are hungry we are really really full…and we are about to explode!
 
Do you like this expression: “too have too little salt in the gourd”? What does this mean? Well, it indicates that a person is rather silly, with little intelligence or good sense. Instead the opposite “to have salt in the gourd” indicates a person has great intelligence.
 
I also like this expression, “to make the count down”. It means to be turned around or headed in a contrary direction, going against the flow…so this is used when you make the countdown, for example for New Year’s Eve.  
 
There are a bunch of expression, that are fairly easily understood, like:
 
Mi manchi come l’aria che respiro (I miss you like the air I breath)
e Non sono tutte rose e violini (Not everything is roses and violins)
But there are a few others like:
Lecarsi i baffi (to lick ones mustache)
Raro come una mosca bianca (rare as a white fly)
In bocca al lupo (in the mouth of the wolf)
Non vedo l’ora (I don’t see the hour)
 
As for “Lecarsi i baffi” this refers to licking one’s mustache, and it means to derive particular pleasure from something, especially a particularly tasty dish. In English we might say we “lick our chops!” 
“Raro come una mosca bianca” it is a common metaphor in the Italian language that indicates a person or object with characteristics that are very unique setting it apart from everything and everybody else.
 
“In bocca al lupo” is the the expression used to wish someone good luck! It is like keeping your fingers crossed – or the expression “Break a leg!” Just remember to ensure your luck sticks, you must answer promptly “Crepi” (we hope the wolf dies before he eats you!) 
 
“Non vedo l’ora” Literally it is translated in English like this: “I can’t see the hour” but in Italian it means to “expect or wait for something with great expectations”. 

 

Receive More Stories Like This In Your Inbox

SPONSORED

Recommended

Chinotto: a fully Italian vintage soda

Chinotto is a citrus fruit originally from China, exclusively grown on the Ligurian coast, in the Savona area since the end of the 19th century...

A summer out of the ordinary by Italy's favorite seaside spots

Summer is on its way, or so we all hope here in Italy. The weather remains unstable, albeit temperatures are pleasant and I happily enjoyed my first...

Giada De Laurentiis: Food Network Chef goes back to her Italian roots

“Cooking with my grandfather Dino is one of my earliest memories.” In going down memory lane, Giada De Laurentiis gets emotional. With such an...

Does Italy really need Starbucks?

The news arrived just a handful of days ago, but it was barely noticed in Italy. Perhaps it’s because we are busy trying to understand who is going...

Ten signs you’ve become fully Italian

Indeed, it can happen to the best of us. It can be genetics or simple love, but when Italy gets into you, it shows. Here are ten easy-to-spot signs...

Weekly in Italian

Recent Issues