5 Italian idioms that will put a smile on your face

5 Italian idioms that will put a smile on your face

Italy is a land of great culture. The food is universally loved, its wine fills glasses around the globe, and the nation boasts a rich history of art

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Italy is a land of great culture. The food is universally loved, its wine fills glasses around the globe, and the nation boasts a rich history of art and literature. But most importantly, the Italians also have some pretty weird sayings that will make you laugh.

Like any society, there are many little phrases that are only accessible to the locals that have grown up around them, so we’ll need to get translating. To learn about five of our favourite Italian expressions, read on — you might pick up a few to use in your day-to-day. Andiamo!

1.    “Sta come il cacio sui maccheroni” – “like cheese on pasta”

Italians use this line to describe when two things fit perfectly together — after all, it’s no secret that these two do.

While most pasta varieties have their popular sauce combinations, cheese is one particular mainstay. The pasta pairing experts at Pasta Evangelists explain: “Long and skinny pasta like spaghetti, linguine, and bucatini taste delicious with creamy sauces like carbonara and cacio e pepe. Shelled pasta like conchiglie also work well, particularly with cheese-based sauces.” Being an ever-popular combo, it’s considered quite the achievement to rival cheese on pasta. On an unrelated note, is anyone else feeling hungry?

2.    “In culo alla balena” – “into the arse of the whale”

When a friend is going for a big interview or a life-changing performance, it’s tradition to advise them to “break a leg”, wishing them good luck. Ever the sophisticated bunch, the Italians have this more elegant expression!

In theatre, it’s considered bad luck to actually wish somebody good luck prior to a performance. One theory suggests that this originates from the fear of “mischief-making spirits of the stage who use their magic to force the opposite of what you wish to happen.” As a result, we tend to find other colourful ways — some more than others — to wish people well. Though a little crude, this romantic idiom rolls right off the tongue. We all need that extra bit of encouragement when entering high-pressure situations — those much like the rear end of a whale, I’d imagine.

3.    “Non puoi avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca” – “you can’t have a full wine barrel and a drunk wife”

We Brits might talk about “having our cake and eating it” — but the Italians opt for this saying instead. Essentially, they mean that we all have to make compromises, which is a pertinent life lesson to remember.

Italy has a longstanding history of making great wines, spanning 4,000 years of experience, so it’s only natural that choosing anything over extra wine would be a tricky decision. Choices must be made, so when your loved ones are struggling to make a tradeoff, be sure to remind them that they can’t have both a full barrel and a drunk wife. Which would you choose?

4.    “Reggere la candela” – “holding the candle”

You might have heard of being a “third wheel” — an extra something that serves no real purpose but is there nonetheless. When an individual is third-wheeling, it usually means that they’re serving as the add-on to another two people that are in a relationship or very good friends. In Italy, they use this phrase to mean that an individual is not really involved, they’re just present. Alternatively, if you find yourself in this scenario, you can excuse yourself by saying “non voglio reggere il moccolo!”, which translates as “I don’t want to be the third wheel!”

5.    “Sei come il prezzemolo” – “you’re like parsley”

Italians love a food metaphor. This one refers to telling somebody that they turn up wherever you go. You might say this when you’re constantly running into a friend out and about, or rather an acquaintance that you can’t seem to escape. If they’re like parsley, they’re everywhere, and often in the way.

Ironically, Italians actually quite like their parsley: the flat leaf variety is one of the most popular herbs found in Italian cuisine, so it does indeed show up everywhere. The bright, slightly bitter taste complements a number of classic dishes, from lemony risotto to minestrone.