If you want to stray a bit from the traditional ways of learning Italian, you’ve come to the right place. The Italian language is brimming with idiomatic expressions involving food, animals, nature and more. How is that different than other languages? It isn’t, but please read on because some of these expressions are truly spicy meatballs.
Learning Italian with expressions is a fun and effortless way to learn the intricacies of Italian culture, build your vocabulary and communicate with locals from Turin to Palermo in a colorful manner.
We’ve compiled 5 Italian idioms that will charm and astound, but most of all, may win you an amice for life.
Toccare il cielo con un dito
When you finally get 100% on your online Italian lessons, you’ll feel this way, we promise. Toccare il cielo con un dito literally means “to touch the sky with a finger” and is used to express a feeling of bliss or elation.
In English, related expressions are “to be one cloud nine” or “to be in seventh heaven” or possibly “to touch the sky,” though the member used for said touching isn’t specified. We’ll assume it’s also the finger.
Example: Quando il marito le chiese di sposarlo, stava toccando il cielo con un dito.
Translation: When her husband asked her to marry her, she was on cloud nine. Uh, a bit heteronormative, but go off queen.
In bocca al lupo
Our next pick should keep the wolves at bay. Literally “in the mouth of the wolf”, the Italian idiom in bocca al lupo was originally used in theater and opera to wish performers good luck before taking the stage. Much like “break a leg” in English, or “Merde !” in French, in bocca al lupo wishes someone protection from any harm or luck in a tricky endeavor..
The standard response to this idiom is crepi il lupo! which means “may the wolf die!”, or the variant viva il lupo! which literally translates as “long live the wolf!” Easy on the wolf metaphors guys, they’re an endangered species.
Did you know? In Italian, it is superstitious to wish somebody “good luck” in the literal sense buona fortuna.
- In bocca al lupo per gli esami!
- Crepi il lupo!
- Good luck with your exams!
- Break a leg!
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Parla come mangi
Needless to say food is a huge part of Italian life and culture and is intertwined in many expressions, including the classic parla como mangi. In Italian, when somebody shows off by using unnecessary, overly complicated words, feel free to use the expression parla come mangi (lit. “talk like you eat”). This less-is-more approach is Italian cuisine in a nutshell.
In English, we might use “get to the point”, “keep it simple” or to keep things concise and on topic.
-Eri sono stato in meeting tutto il giorno perché il debrief della mia boss era lungo e dettagliato.
-Ma parla come mangi!
-Yesterday, my meeting lasted all day because of my boss’s feedback, which was long and detailed.
-Get to the point!
Non vedo l’ora!
Defy the space-time continuum with the expression non vedo l’ora, literally “I don’t see the time”. The idiom expresses anticipation for an event. We bet you can’t wait to use this idiom when the occasion presents itself.
Example: Andrò a vedere il concerto di Beyonce, non vedo l’ora!
Translation: “I’m going to Beyonce’s concert tonight, I can’t wait!
Non avere peli sulla lingua
This next idiom is not a tongue twister but involves tongues all the same. Non avere peli sulla lingua means “Don’t hold your tongue”. This expression is used, sometimes ironically, to refer to someone outspoken, or sincerely to encourage them to speak honestly. It can also be used to describe someone who speaks honestly or bluntly (“She doesn’t mince words”).
Example: Non ha peli sulla lingua: mi ha detto che non le piaceva la mia decorazione
Translation: She doesn’t mince her words – she told me she didn’t like my decoration at all.
Bonus : Hai voluto la bicicletta? E adesso pedala!
Let’s go out with a bang by using our bonus expression. “You wanted a bike? Now pedal!” Much like the English idiom “you made your bed, now lie in it.”, this expression underlines that someone created an uncomfortable situation for themselves and is now suffering the consequences.
- Ho accettato il lavoro dei miei sogni però mi tocca fare dieci ore di macchina tutti i giorni.
- Hai voluto la bicicletta? E adesso pedala.
- I accepted my dream job, but the commute takes me 10 hours every day.
- You made your bed—now lie in it!
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