There’s lots to love about Italy; the food, the art, the fashion, and especially the language all come to mind. Sure, you can enjoy everything else without knowing Italian itself, but comprehending everything spoken and written around you will help you relish the true, full Italy experience.
In turn, if you can speak well enough to utilise idioms, you can impress native speakers and find your way to all sorts of local gems. Italian idioms can help you fully express your emotions, describe things happening around you, and give Italian speakers a sense of who you are as a person.
10 ITALIAN IDIOMS YOU CAN USE TO IMPRESS NATIVE SPEAKERS
With that in mind, let’s discuss ten of the more popular Italian idioms. Some are fairly similar to expressions you may hear in your own language, while others are unique to the beloved boot-shaped nation.
IN BOCCA AL LUPO
To start, those in the arts may be familiar with this idiom’s English equivalent. See, when you’re about to go on stage, and someone says, “in bocca al lupo!”, which translates to “into the wolf’s mouth!”, they’re actually wishing you good luck! In turn, you’d respond, “crepi il lupo” (may the wolf die).
Conversely, wishing someone good luck in the same situation has the reverse connotation. In this sense, English speakers can draw a comparison with the classic idiom “break a leg!”. By vocalising the bad thing, good things are expected to come in return.
I FRUTTI PROIBITI SONO I PIÙ DOLCI
This is another expression among the Italian idioms that many of you may already be familiar with. When something you can’t have appears more desirable than anything else, it can be said that “i frutti proibiti sono i più dolci”, or, “forbidden fruit is always the sweetest”.
This idiom, of course, is rooted in the Christian faith and the story of Adam and Eve. According to the tale, God placed the two in an idyllic garden that offered them everything. It was all taken away, however, when they ate fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—which was the one thing they were told not to do.
In turn, the expression is meant as a reminder of how we’re still drawn to that which we are restricted from.
BUONO COME IL PANE
Now, unless they’re allergic to gluten, pretty much every Italian loves bread. You can incorporate it into basically every meal, and it’s a generally positive force in the world. When you want to describe someone who is just as beloved or wholesome, you could say that they’re “buono come il pane”, or, “as good as bread”.
LA MINESTRA RISCALDATA NON È MAI BUONA
We all know one of those couples: things go well for a bit, then they go bad, then they end, then they try to start up again. Even though the relationship dies, the two still try to make it work. A judgemental friend seeing this pattern may remark, “Ugh, la minestra riscaldata non è mai buona”, which translates to “reheated pasta never tastes good”.
Maybe you can get a bit of heat back for a bit, but reheated pasta will never be the same as fresh pasta, and it will only last so long until you have to throw it away. In turn, this Italian idiom is used to talk about an on-and-off relationship that needs to quit where it is.
MORTO UN PAPA SE NE FA UN ALTRO
Amongst many other things, Italy is known for hosting the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Yes, he technically lives in Vatican City, which is legally considered a separate country, but he’s still the pride of Italy nonetheless.
In turn, it makes sense that a famous Italian idiom would mention the holy figure. Specifically, if you want to communicate that life goes on and there are other people out there, you’d say, “morto un papa, se ne fa un altro”. This translates to “one pope dies, another will be made”, which refers to the fact that popes are replaced through a special selection process once they pass away or give up the position.
This can be considered the Italian equivalent of “there are plenty more fish in the sea” or “everyone is replaceable”.
Italian idioms can help you fully express your emotions, describe things happening around you, and give Italian speakers a sense of who you are as a person.
FARSENE UN BAFFO
Along with cheese, wine, and clothes, Italy has a lot of moustaches within its borders. In turn, a moustache in Italy is considered virtually insignificant in the grand scheme of things. So, if you want to express that someone is making something out to be trivial, or claiming it’s not a big deal, you could say they’re “farsene un baffo”, or, “making a moustache of it”.
To “make a moustache of something”, then, is to assert that it doesn’t stand out in any special way, and shouldn’t be pointed out.
RESTARE IN MUTANDE
If you end up in a fight, or are having a battle of wits and urge the other person to surrender, you might use the Italian idiom “restare in mutande”, or, “left with your underwear”.
No, this doesn’t mean Italians wave their pants on a pole instead of a white flag; it’s just meant to describe how someone in their underwear would not be able to keep fighting, causing them to forfeit the conflict.
L’ABITO NON FA IL MONACO
As we’ve learned in the age of social media, not everyone is who they seem on the outside. We can put on whatever clothes we want, change our faces, etc., but none of that will change who we are inside. This sentiment is captured in the Italian idiom “l’abito non fa il monaco”, or, “the habit does not make the monk”.
In other words, just because someone is dressed as a holy man, and perhaps walks like one, doesn’t mean they’re anything of the sort. This Italian idiom could be considered the equivalent of the English expression “the clothes don’t make the man”.
TOGLITI DAI PIEDI
If you’re trying to see as much of Italy as you can, and are in a rush to get somewhere, you may find yourself shouting, “togliti dai piedi!” as you pass cars on the road. The idiom translates literally to “take yourself out of my feet”, but is usually interpreted simply as “get out of the way!”.
The exact wording could be confusing to English speakers when translated, but makes enough sense if you consider it as “get off my feet”, as that would certainly prevent you from moving.
SPUTA IL ROSPO
Lastly, if you need someone to go ahead and say whatever they need to say, especially if they’ve been keeping quiet, you should simply ask them to “sputare il rospo”, or, “spit out the toad”. In essence, this is equivalent to the American/British expressions “spit it out” or “spill the beans”, or the modern equivalent, “spill the tea”.
Despite their differences, these phrases all have the same essential meaning: “say what you need to say”.
TRY USING ITALIAN IDIOMS IN CONVERSATIONS
As you engage with more natives (when you’re able to go to Italy for real, anyway), you’ll find greater opportunities to use each and every one of these Italian idioms—and we encourage you to practise them all! You may not get them right the first time, as it goes when learning any foreign language, but you’ll impress everyone around you once you’ve mastered the art of idioms.
From there, you can go ahead and start mastering idioms in Spanish, French, German, and Dutch as well!