Generally speaking, idioms are the essence of a language and represent the cultural heritage of a nation. With Italian idioms, the same is true. They are hardly translatable literally from one language to another and arise from the observation of reality and nature.
They are connected to particular historical events or anecdotes, and so on.
Many Italian idioms, on the other hand, are linked to food, numbers, parts of the body, famous people or important cities. The richness of Italian phrases is vast. Here are a few of which we analyse the meaning, the origin, as well as providing some examples.
Tutte le strade portano a Roma
This proverb, from the Latin “Omnes viae Romam ducunt”, stems from the fact that the Romans conceived and built a road system that was efficient to say the least. For economic-commercial, war or political reasons, these routes have allowed the development of Roman civilisation in the world. Even today, the consular roads of Ancient Rome form the basis of the Italian road network. The Aurelia, the Salaria, the Cassia, the Flaminia, the Appia are just some of the main arteries. In addition to the ease of reaching Rome from every point, the saying indicates that whatever decision is taken, it will still lead us to the same solution or in the same direction.
Abbiamo fatto 30, facciamo 31
This is a saying with a very ancient origin. It seems to date back to 1517 when Pope Leo X appointed 30 cardinals. Realizing that he had forgotten a cardinal who was a friend of his, he decided to add him to the list, thus arriving at 31.
As for the meaning, the saying is equivalent to “dare beyond” or “strive further”. Its use is universal, as it is applicable to any area or situation. Example: imagine you are in Rome and, after a long and interesting daily itinerary, you are in the Circo Massimo area. You are tired, you would like to go back to the hotel to relax. Now you are there: “Abbiamo fatto 30, facciamo 31”. Carry on a little more to see the Bocca della Verità!
Come il cacio sui maccheroni
This idiom is, without a doubt, the one that best embodies Italian cuisine and culture. If something is “come il cacio sui maccheroni” it means that we have obtained, voluntarily or involuntarily, a perfect match. Sometimes, this can happen in a completely random way. However, this term is not necessarily limited to food.
The pasta dish, generically referred to as macaroni, is the most representative metaphor that can exist for an Italian. The dusting of cheese associates the sensory experience with a deeper meaning.
Prendere due piccioni con una fava
Image that recalls the idea of obtaining a double benefit from a single action. Therefore, it is emphasized that, with the least effort we have achieved the maximum expected result. Thanks to luck or the skill and skill of the subject in question, this saying is certainly linked to the peasant world. Reference is made to the typical custom, a real technique, of attracting pigeons by attracting them with beans placed in traps. The birds, particularly fond of this legume, bite like a hooked fish. Are we therefore able to make the most of a situation with the least investment / effort?
Contrary to what one might think, saying “Che pizza!” it has a meaning that is anything but positive! Here the exclamation has the negative “taste” of boredom and annoyance. It describes a situation which is not particularly compelling or interesting.
But why the pizza that the whole world loves? Probably, the origin comes from the patience, as well as boredom, of having to wait for the slow leavening process of such an exquisite and appetising food.
Tizio, Caio e Sempronio
This expression is one of the most popular in Italy. It is used to indicate “any person” or that you do not want to specify. It is the equivalent of “Tom, Dick, and Harry” and other expressions in other languages.
Sometimes, however, we usually only use “Tizio e Caio” without “Sempronio”, or “Tizio” when we want to refer to “a random guy”. Why these names? Because they were the most common names in legal exemplification and were used for the first time in 1100.
Dolce far niente
“Dolce far niente” is something we love. Taking a break after lunch, a walk on the beach while having an ice cream, watching Netflix, are all “dolce far niente” activities!
Stare con le mani in mano
Demonstrate passivity in the face of a problem or duty, without doing anything to solve it or to help.
Chiodo schiaccia chiodo
Idiom used to console someone in the face of a difficulty, suggesting to replace the old with the new. For example, it is widely used at the end of a relationship or a friendship: it is advisable to find a new friend or a new partner to distract from what has been lost.
Cavallo di battaglia
Expression indicated to indicate “the best of the best”, usually when describing a skill or a characteristic. For example, a singer’s ‘cavallo di battaglia’ could be the song that sings best or the most successful.
Abbassare la cresta
It is the gesture with which the roosters, before or after a fight, recognize the superiority of the opponent. From the peasant world the expression came to us with the sense of “lowering one’s own claims”, “recognising one’s inferiority” or even just “not being so arrogant”.