10 Amusing Italian Idiomatic Expressions

10 Amusing Italian Idiomatic Expressions

Have you ever been to Italy? If so, you may have heard a few phrases during your travels that caught you off guard. You might have been asked to 'get another pair of sleeves,' or to 'get a crab,' or somebody you encountered may have wished to have been eaten by a wolf. These humorous idiomatic expressions are used quite often in Italian and it may have gotten you to question - "What does it mean? And what is this obsession with animals?" Idioms are a reflection of the cultural traditions, values, and customs. In English, something can happen "once in a blue moon", but in Italian, it happens "every time the Pope dies." Italians will be impressed by your language skills if you can use their expressions in the right context. Dive into the world of Italian idiomatic expressions with us and sound more like a native Italian speaker. Divertiti! 

1. In bocca al lupo

 In the mouth of the wolf. Italians have a funny way of wishing you luck, and that is by inviting you to get eaten by a wolf. The other person must respond ‘Crepi il lupo’ (‘The wolf shall die’). So... Break a leg or get devoured by a wolf ? 

2. Un altro paio di maniche:

Another pair of sleeves. This expression is used as a comparison when the second term is greater than the first. For example, 'saying something is easy, doing it is another pair of sleeves’. It is thought that the expression refers to Mediaeval times, when women’s clothing had replaceable sleeves.

3. Prendere lucciole per lanterne:

To mistake fireflies with lanterns. This saying is used to suggest an easily visible mistake or to refer to a person who is not really intuitive. So if you ever hear ‘Luigi mistakes fireflies with lanterns’, you know Luigi is not that quick.

4. A piede libero:

On a free foot. This refers to people who are on bail awaiting sentencing. In fact, this expression was used in Mediaeval times when prisoners were forced to have their feet cuffed. It can also refer to to an escaped prisoner who is now ‘a piede libero’.

5. Essere nella fossa dei leoni:

To be in the ditch with lions. Here is another unhappy expression involving ferocious animals trying to kill men. This expression is used when someone is in a very difficult and inconvenient situation, and dates back to the Roman Empire when punishment could also consist of getting eaten by lions.

6. Prendere un granchio:

To catch a crab. This means that the end result of something is a lot lower than expected. It can also mean that you have made a big mistake. If you are a fisherman and you are hoping to catch a fish, you’ll probably be disappointed to catch a crab!

7. Patti chiari, amicizia lunga:

Clear conditions, long friendship. This expression is used to refer to an open and honest conversation, in which all parties involved can establish an agreement that will keep the friendship/relationship going strong. For example, if you organise a dinner for friends, you could tell them to bring the wine, because..’clear conditions, long friendship!’

8. Rendere pane per focaccia:

To give bread for focaccia. As everyone know Italians are serious about their culinary traditions and they like to mention them in any context. In fact, ‘rendere pane per focaccia’ means that you respond to an offence with an equally or even stronger offence than the one you have received.

9. Ogni morte di papa:

Every time the Pope dies. This saying may sound really strange, but it does make sense. Italians use this expression to refer to something that happens with very little frequency, so if you are in Rome and you are wondering how often roads get redone, the answer is ‘Every time the Pope dies!’

10. Saltare di palo in frasca:

To jump from a post to a pile of branches means to jump from one topic to another without there being any connection between the two. In English you would use the expression of ‘going on a tangent’.

We hope you enjoyed reading 10 Amusing Italian Idiomatic Expressions! These Italian expressions really reflect the true culture of Italians from the past into the present. Have other Italian idioms you want to add to the list? Don't forget to add them in the comments' section below. Looking for more Italian language & culture? Check out our Italian Group Classes and Private Lessons at JP Linguistics taught by native instructors. Grazie mille!