Six Italian Idioms You Can Learn Today

They say the English language is full of idioms and expressions just waiting to trip up ESL students and send them running for cover.

And they are right. We have some doozies.

“It’s raining cats and dogs!” Yikes

Italians would think they were in a bad Spike Lee flick, cross themselves and get started on the rosary in preparation for the last days.

But don’t let them fool you. The Italian language, in all of its flowery, sing-song wonder, has its fair share of incomprehensible expressions.

Here are six of my favorite Italian idioms:

1. Non mi Va

Literally meaning “it doesn’t go (for) me,” this expression can be used anywhere.

“These pants are too tight, non mi va.”

“I just ate a bowl of pasta, a piece of chicken and a salad. This banana non mi va.”

“Do you want to go to the beach today?” “No … non mi va.”

2. Non Vedo l’Ora

Literally translated as “I don’t see the hour,” this idiom is downright confusing when you realize it actually means “I can’t wait.”

“I’m going to Texas tomorrow, non vedo l’ora!

3. In Bocca al Lupo

You aren’t really sending someone “into the wolf’s mouth” as the literal meaning may imply, but rather wishing them good luck. This expression is similiar to our “break a leg” wish, which is slightly warped as well if you think about it.

“You have a test today? In bocca al lupo!

And their response is always, “Crepi!” meaning, “die” which I can only assume to mean “let the wolf die so he doesn’t eat me.”

4. Che me ne Frega

This expression translates as “What do I care?” but I think it has harsher undertones. I recently said this in a crowd and got more than a few laughs and my husband later told me it isn’t a very “classy” thing to say.

Maybe it is more like, “I don’t give a F**K.


5. Mi Prendi in Giro

Literally meaning “You take me for a spin,” this idiom always gets me singing, “You spin me right ’round baby, right round …”

But it really means, “Are you making fun of me?” It is a good one to know when you live around people who are in fact, often, “taking you for a spin.”

6. Sono Incazzata nera

Translated as “I’m black mad,” this expression is similiar to “I’m seeing red,” or “I’m pissed!”

“The Questura lost my paperwork – sono incazzata nera.”

“Tickets went up $200 for his flight. He’s incazzato nero.”

Think you can learn a few more before Monday’s pop quiz? Check out Miss Expatria’s hilarious count inย  “How to Say it in Italian” or check out three new phrases at the Italian Language Course Blog. If your interested in testing your Italian reading skills, there are over 100 idioms listed here.

What are your favorite Italian or English idioms? What were the hardest for you to learn?

***Don’t forget to leave a question for Justin ย so you can be eligible to win a free signed copy of his book, “My Cousin the Saint.”ย He’s already some questions. Check out the answers here.***

Vist Mary at Flavors of Abruzzoย to see what’s cooking this weekend with La Buona Cucina Americana!

23 Responses
  1. Idioms are so fun! One of my favorites I learned from “Uomini e Donne” (the Bachelor/Bachelorette type show on Italian TV): Sei fuori! You’re outside! Which really means you’re crazy because it’s short for “fuori di testa” (“out of your head/mind”) ๐Ÿ™‚
    I *love* that expression, too. SEI FUORI!!!

  2. I never heard the incazzata nera one! Maybe it’s regional? Here we say “Crepe lupo” so there’s no mistake about who must die.
    I also like “fuori comune” as a gentle and clean way to say something or someone is special. I try not to use many slangisms, because they are perilous beyond belief.
    LOL. Yes, the wolf must die. ha ha I have never heard “fuori comune.” Grazie!

  3. I had a tourist lose his way and end up at my house once. His parting words were ‘ lei sa che sta in un posto da tagliarsi le vene?’. I looked around me expecting to see the floor cave under my feet. Seeing my bewilderment, he translated ‘E` un posto bellissimo’.
    Thinking about it later, I suppose it must translate into ‘A place to die for’.
    Wow. THAT was a mouthful, wasn’ it? You did to catch it all, I’d have just smiled and offered him coffee! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. My gay mafia always told me that “crepi” was an awful, awful thing to say to someone. Boh?
    I guess it could be bad if you weren’t saying it in the context with “In Bocca al Lupo.” Otherwise you are just saying “die!” Knowing how Italians hate to talk about death, I can see where that is a bad thing to say! ha.

  5. I love idioms. Sei fuori is one I haven’t hear. Me like.

    Here in Rome “che me ne frega” is like our , “I don’t give a s***.” I only say when I’m kidding with my friends.

    One of the first idioms I learned in Italian class back in the States was “non vedo l’ora”. I had said, “non posso… ” as in “I can’t waiting for….” My professor said nope, “it’s non vedo l’ora.” Like you are so excited “you can’t even see the hour.” Oh okay.
    Yes, but “can’t see the hour” makes me think of “I don’t want to see the hour, so I don’t want it to come.” I said non posso aspettare the first time and P laughed *so* hard. Too hard, actually. It isn’t *that* funny! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Also, I had a doctor once tell me something like “che ne frega” like “who cares” when I told him a different doctor referred me to him. How was I to know it was rude? My doctor said it! LOL

  6. Italians always say “In bocca al lupo” “Crepi” and never “buona fortuna” (good luck). They also have a more colourful version of that expression involving whales and flatulence but I don’t think I should share it here ; )

    One curious idiom I first learned was “Conosco i miei polli” (literally, “I know my chickens”) but which actually means “I know what he/she’s like”: ex. I’m sure my husband is going to forget his keys again. Conosco i miei polli!

    I also love using the word “sfiga” (bad luck) in all its variations. Che sfiga, porta sfiga, che sfigato/a, etcโ€ฆ
    Oooh. That whale one has me interested. I’ll have to ask P. although “conosco i miei polli” so he probably won’t know what I’m talking about!

  7. Oh, my thunder! I thought that Texas had a lot of idioms…but this takes the cake. I sat here practicing (can you imagine how these sound in a Texas accent? of course you can). So tell me how to say something akin to “ring-tailed tooter” in Italian, would you?

    I’m bummed that Justin didn’t answer if his wife knocked him upside the head after his imaginary romance!
    Girl, you got me on that one! When I’m in doubt, I just add an “O” or an “A” to the end of the English word and P figures out what I am trying to say. I’m hoping Justin will answer that next time. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I’d never heard the incazzata nera one either. I prefer saying buona fortuna (even though Italians don’t say it) to in bocca al lupo because I don’t like the crepi. Poor wolf!
    He he, that is funny. I tend to say both, not for any real reason, but I “feel” buona fortuna a little more.

  9. @nyc/carribbean ragazza i love non me ne frega niente.

    @KC incazzata nera! one of my faves.

    @Milanese Masala “che sfigata” i find at least 5 reasons to say that every day. LOL!
    I have heard che sfigata but I don’t say it much. I will now. I wanna be in the “cool club.”

  10. Is “incazzata” a PG-13 word, or does it just sound like the “c” word (which, like olive oil, seems to season pretty much everything in Italy)?

    One of my favorite G-rated idioms (after “non vedo l’ora”)has always been “mi piace da morire!” It’s oddly counter-intuitive, like “non vedo l’ora (I don’t see the hour? I like it from dying?), but it seems to me quintessentially Italian for exactly that reason.
    LOL. I think it just sounds like it! I’ll have to listen more closely for “mi piace da morire.” Maybe I was always confused when I heard it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Carla

    I like “figurati!” (many meanings: my pleasure! Sure! You bet! Not at all! Tell me about it!).
    I’ve only heard “Sei fuori” used in northern Italy, but I like that too!
    And I’m so gullible, I always have to use “Mi Prendi in Giro?” because I never know if people are joking or not! ๐Ÿ™‚

    buon weekend!
    That is why I never really understood “figurati!” It means SO much! Buon weekend to you, too!

  12. @paul of the clue-by-four – I used to say “mi piace di morire,” and my friends would fall over laughing. To this day I don’t know the difference, but now they all say it to make fun of me!

    @Carla – In my famous-among-me Engtalian, I say, “Are you prending me in giro?”
    THIS is why we are friends. I say “prending me in giro,” too! LOL

  13. I was going to mention the whale one that Milanese Masala mentioned above; it’s a good one, but even my Italian teacher refused to write it down when she taught it to us. Not for mixed company. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I have a whole book of Italian idioms – one of my favorites, which I’ve never had an opportunity yet to use, is “gatta ci cova” – as in “there’s something fishy going on,” but literally more like “the cat is hiding something.” Too cute. I started writing about Italian idioms on my site, but haven’t added to it in awhile… Must get back to it!
    I have GOT to ask P about the whale idiom! I love gatta ci cova. This is a fun conversation we have going on here. I’m learning so much!

  14. Ooh, and one more I just remembered – it came from a friend who was recently in Italy. “Mezza sega” is, as she puts it – “only the best insult ever, it means, literally, half a saw. But in every day use, it means ‘half a wanker’ — somebody who is so lazy, they can’t even finish their own job.”
    I’ve never heard that one. I’m gonna have to figure out how to use it! Grazie.

  15. i’m still struggling with the straight up lingo! but i do like to use ‘non vedo l’ora’ particularly in the sense…la mese prossima andiamo in italia…non vedo l’ora! (e’ vero!!)

    did you ever see the book ‘wicked italian’…it’s chock full of language goodies!
    Woo hoo. I am sure you don’t see the hour for that! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the book rec. Sounds Bostonized to me.

  16. One of my favorites in france is: “les doigts dans le nez”, literally translated: fingers in the nose.

    Used when something is so easy, that you can do it even if your fingers are up your nose ๐Ÿ™‚
    Oh that is funny … and kinda gross! ha

  17. I always realize how crazy even just the English language is when I’m talking to my two little girls. They take things so literally and things that mean one thing to you mean something quite different to them : )
    Exactly! My mom loves to tell the story of how I wouldn’t eat chicken fingers growing up because of the literal meaning. You can learn a lot from kids, no?

  18. j

    It seems there are more of these kind of expressions in Italian then there are in English. I’m not sure why this would be. Maybe Italians are just more poetic, or maybe its just more difficult to express yourself in Italian and that is also why they use their hands more when they speak…or maybe I’m just a saputo!
    It would be interesting to see if there really are more in Italian or if they just jump out to us more because it is a second language. I’m not sure if they do this b/c it is harder to express themselves, but most Italians I know repeat themselves over and over until finally you are like, “Uh yea, dude. I get it!” :-0

  19. Trandafil

    Che figata di blog!= Cool blog!
    Be careful with “incazzata nera”, it means “(really)pissed off” ! and don’t ever say “mezza sega” to a man !!
    As long as the use of idioms is concerned, I believe it’s true that we use more idioms/proverbs/anecdotes than English-speakers, I remember my high school teachers saying not to lose time learning proverbs because British and Americans don’t use them often, instead here in Italy a person who knows a lot of anecdotes or sayings is highly regarded (particularly among the elderly), it’s a popular tradition.
    Ciao. Grazie! And thanks for helping out with the idioms. I see what you mean about the older generation constantly quoting proverbs. I LOVE hearing them!

    PS – I just asked P what mezza sega means and he wants to know who I’ve been talking to!!! LOL

  20. I love the Italian word ‘allora’ which is the Italian word used to pause in conversation… and means “everything and nothing” Ciao

  21. Do you REALLY want to know the one about the whale?


    Warning you…


    In culo alla balena (in a whale’s asshole).
    Person B: Spero che non caghi (I hope he doesn’t shit).

    So there ya go.

    It was popular among the young folks in Sicily and Calabria.


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