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10 Idioms Only Italians Understand

Italy Languages
by Marco Chiusaroli Oct 18, 2015

1. In bocca al lupo / In culo alla balena | In the wolf’s mouth / In the whale’s ass

These two expressions for good luck are well-known throughout Italy, but clearly, they don’t make any sense. Maybe they came into use because a simple “good luck” (buona fortuna) was too plain and boring.

2. Avere le braccine corte | To have short arms

In Italy, cheap people are said to have “short arms.” Just imagine a tyrannosaurus rex trying to reach into its pockets for its wallet. Impossible, even if it’s his turn to pay the round of drinks at the bar!

3. Non mi rompere i maroni | Don’t break my chestnuts!

Typically what you’d say to someone annoying.

4. Hai voluto la bicicletta? E adesso pedala! | You wanted the bike? Now you’ve got to ride it!

This is used when someone refuses to take responsibility for his or her own actions. It’s said with very little empathy and lots of sarcasm, so either you don’t like your friend so much or you already told him several times that he was making a mistake.

A: Oh man, I lost everything on Saturday night at the casino!
B: I told you not to gamble! Hai voluto la bicicletta? E adesso pedala!

5. Braccia rubate all’agricoltura | Arms stolen from agricultural work

This comment tends to refer to someone doing something intellectual when they clearly don’t have a clue of what they’re doing. Basically, they’d be better off working in a farm.

6. Tirare il pacco | To throw the package

When you “throw the package,” it means you didn’t show up to a date or meeting with a friend.

A: Did you meet up with Luca yesterday?
B: No, he didn’t show up.Mi ha tirato il pacco.

7. Si chiama Pietro e torna indietro | Its name is Peter and it comes back

When someone wants to borrow something from you, you lend it by saying, “Its name is Peter and it comes back.” In English, this doesn’t make much sense, but it works in Italian because Pietro and indietro rhymes.

In English, this idiom would sound better if it said, “Its name is Jack and I want it back.” I still wouldn’t try it with my English friends though. The only response I’d get is a blank stare, but this phrase is so well-known in Italy that people often skip the second part.

A: Hey Marco, can you lend me your PlayStation for the weekend?
B: Of course, butsi chiama Pietro

8. Fare le corna a qualcuno | To have the horns put on you

This is an extremely popular saying in Italy. If your girlfriend “puts horns on you,” it means she’s cheating on you. If you want to piss off the guy in the car in front of you, because he didn’t respect your right of way, stick your hand out of the car window and show him the ‘rocker’ hand sign. In Italy, unless you’re at an AC/DC concert, this is very offensive as you’re basically saying his wife cheated on him and he has horns on his head. You can use it to offend someone, or just use it casually in conversations.

A: How are Maria and her boyfriend?
B: Not good man,gli ha fatto le corna!

9. Non avere peli sulla lingua | Without hair on his tongue

When you ask a friend of yours to speak his mind and to be brutally honest with you, even if you’re not going to like his opinion, you ask him to say it “without hair on his tongue.”

A: Tell me Marco, what do you think about this article?
B: I’m going to tell you senza peli sulla lingua. It’s crap!

10. Vai a farti benedire / Vai a quel paese | Go get blessed / Go to that town

Italians have many different ways of telling someone to get lost. Obviously we have an equivalent of “F@*k off,” which I’m not going to explain as I’m a polite fellow writing a polite article, but two well-known ways to tell someone to “piss off” are vai a farti benedire, “go get blessed,” and vai a quel paese, “go to that town.”

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