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16 Awesome Expressions to Know Before You Travel to Italy

Italy Languages
by Rebecca Hughes Jul 11, 2017

Italian is the language of heart-wrenching opera and poetic epics, but it is also a language which has multiple words for coat hanger and none for hangover (well you can say ‘i postumi di una sbornia’ but one isn’t usually that eloquent while battling the after effects of alcohol). Consider pasta varieties – strozzapreti meaning ‘priest chokers’ or occhi di passero meaning ‘sparrow eyes.’ Even with insults, jokes or ordering alcohol, Italian is eloquent. Here are some choice expressions to spice up your conversations in il bel paese.

1. Stai da Dio.

“You are of God.”

It may seem a little exaggerated, but this phrase is perhaps most similar to the English expression, ‘You look heavenly.’ That’s one to keep up your sleeve for a first date.

2. Essere nato/a con la camicia.

“To be born in a shirt.”

This conjures up a sweet image of a baby in a tiny shirt, but it means to be born lucky. It derives from an ancient belief that babies born shrouded in the placenta would be blessed with special virtues or magical powers.

3. Essere in gamba.

“To be in leg.”

This can be used to describe someone who is smart and capable or someone who is ‘on the ball’.

4. Sei un mammone.

“You are a big mum.”

This is the ideal insult to use on Italian men because it’s so widely applicable. It means ‘Mummy’s boy’, and it can be used to make fun of the many old Italian men who still live with their mamme.

5. Sei fuori come un balcone.

“You’re out like a balcony.”

A version of our ‘off the wall,’ to mean someone who is mad.

6. Sei sempre in mezzo come il giovedì.

“You’re always in the middle like Thursday.”

Often used in an affectionate but exasperated way, this describes someone who is usually interrupting or getting in the way. A similar expression is to say someone is ‘come il prezzemolo’, or like parsley, because the herb crops up so frequently in dishes.

7. Non sai nemmeno come fare una ‘o’ col bicchiere.

“You don’t even know how to make an ‘o’ with a glass.”

A pretty cutting insult if you can execute it well; it essentially means someone is completely incapable.

8. Fare la scarpetta.

“To make a small shoe.”

We all know the feeling of a tight waistband after a generous bowl of pasta but, most of us have that little space for sauce-drenched bread. This is called ‘fare la scarpetta’ in Italian and it is almost sacrilege, and certainly offensive to the chef, to turn down that last delicious mouthful.

9. Caffè corretto.

“Corrected coffee.”

By ‘corrected’, the Italians mean fired up with alcohol. A caffè corretto is an espresso with an addition of grappa, sambuca or cognac, and is usually drunk after dinner.

10. Un’ombra di vino.

“A shadow of wine.”

Mostly drunk by old men at 11 am, un’ombra is a small glass of a local (often cheap) wine, usually costing about 1 euro. It’s found in slightly dingy bars in small towns and in the real local bars of Venice, but it’s not the sort of thing one orders in Milano.

11. Fare la mano morta.

“To make a dead hand.”

A well-chosen metaphor to describe those anonymous hands of creeps in clubs or crowded places that ‘accidently’ feel up a woman.

12. La sera leoni, la mattina coglioni.

“In the evening lions, in the morning testicles.”

Describes a wild night of drinking followed by feeling awful the next morning.

13. Ci sono quattro gatti.

“There are four cats.”

If the club just isn’t buzzing and the bar is empty but for the local drunkard, you can use this expression. If the place is completely dead you can say ‘non c’è neanche un cane’ – there isn’t even a dog.

14. Arrampicarsi sugli specchi.

“To climb up mirrors.”

If your friend has had a bit too much to drink and he’s doggedly maintaining something to be true that you all know to be a ‘cagata’ (bullshit), he would be climbing up mirrors. It is similar to attempting to defend an argument without foundation.

15. Avere le mani bucate.

“To have holey hands.”

Not to be confused with saints who have received the stigmata, this means somebody whose pennies just seem to fall through their hands, i.e. who spends a lot.

16. Prendere qualcuno per il culo.

“To take someone by the ass.”

It only means to make fun of someone.

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