15 Funny Italian Phrases to Sound Authentic and Spread Some Smiles

Italian is funny.

I’m not joking.

Italian is full of funny phrases that often have very different meanings from their literal translations. 

These amusing expressions are part of what makes the language so rich and full.

These 15 funny Italian phrases are a perfect way to expand your vocabulary.

Even better, you’ll understand what someone means when they tell you to spit out the frog.


Cadere dalle nuvole. (To be very surprised / astounded)

This phrase is used to show surprise at something or someone. It literally means “to fall from the clouds,” which, if you ask me, would be a pretty astounding experience!

You can use it to express your extreme surprise. For example: “Non lo sapevo, sono caduto dalle nuvole.” (I didn’t know that, I was astounded.)

Non avere peli sulla lingua! (Without hair on your tongue!)

Here’s another mouth reference that’s also not to be taken literally. I mean, if there’s hair on your tongue then you probably have more important things to think about than funny Italian expressions!

This turn of phrase actually means “Tell the truth!”

It implies that someone might be hiding the truth and it’s a challenge for them to speak honestly, without having the truth caught up in the hair on their tongue.

Avere le braccine corte. (To have short arms.)

If your arms aren’t long enough to reach your wallet (figuratively, of course—not literally!) you can expect that this phrase might be tossed your way.

To have short arms is another way to say a person is cheap.

Gettare fumo negli occhi. (To throw smoke in the eyes.)

Throwing smoke into someone’s eyes doesn’t seem nice, but the point is to make someone oblivious to the truth.

This expression is very similar in meaning to the English “To pull the wool over someone’s eyes.” You can also think of this expression as creating a smokescreen, to throw people off and sow confusion in place of the truth.

Scoprire l’acqua calda. (To discover hot water.)

Give yourself a pat on the back: You’ve just discovered something that everyone already knew. Wait. Oops!

This phrase is similar to the English saying “to reinvent the wheel” and is used in a similar way: “Hai scoperto l’acqua calda, lo sapevamo già.” (You’ve just reinvented the wheel, we already knew that.)

Mangi questa minestra o salti dalla finestra. (To eat the soup or jump out of the window.)

If there’s something you don’t want to do but you have no choice? You can eat the soup or jump out the window!

In other words, take it or leave it. The freedom to choose is an illusion!

Scopa nuova spazza bene per tre giorni. (A new broom sweeps well for three days.)

This expression has nothing to do with brooms.

It conveys the meaning that everything loses its newness sooner or later.

You might tackle a new task with enthusiasm and gusto but before long, that energy will inevitably die down. If you expect a new hobby, relationship, or anything new to maintain its novelty over time, then you’re bound to be disappointed.

So when someone becomes absolutely obsessed with a new DIY project, maybe remind them that a new broom sweeps well for three days—or just show them their room of unfinished projects.

Non si vive di solo pane. (You don’t live with just bread.)

There are no dietary implications with this one, so don’t worry that your carbs are on the line.

When someone says you don’t live with just bread, they’re saying there’s more to life than just the basics (like bread).

If you’re just content with settling for the basics in life, you may be missing lots of other, potentially more interesting possibilities.

Look further than the bread to live la dolce vita (the sweet life)!

Essere in alto mare. (To be out on the open sea.)

This phrase literally puts you in the middle of the waters with no land in sight. It means
to be far from a solution, or to still have a long way to go.

If someone asks you how your project is going at work, you might respond with “Siamo ancora in alto mare.” (We still have a long way to go.)

Gettare la spugna. (Throw in the sponge.)

Don’t toss out your cleaning supplies! When you throw in the sponge, it means that you’re giving up on something or someone.

Is a job is sucking the life from you? Getta la spugna.

A love affair going awry? Getta la spugna.

Rompere le uova nel paniere. (To break the eggs in the basket.)

You know that feeling when you’re carrying eggs home from the store and you accidentally knock the bag against the doorway and hear a crack…!? That’s the feeling that this phrase conveys. It means “to upset the apple cart,” that is, to upset or spoil someone’s plans.

You might use it this way: “Lei gli ha proprio rotto le uova nel paniere.” (She has really upset his plans.)

Mettere la pulce nell’orecchio (a qualcuno). (To put a flea in someone’s ear.)

Okay, you’re not literally putting fleas in anyone’s ears. But if I bet if you tried, it would definitely seem suspicious. That’s what this phrase means, after all: to arouse someone’s suspicions.

If your friend accidentally hints that she went to the cafe with someone, you may say: “Le sue parole ci hanno messo la pulce nell’orecchio.” (Her words aroused our suspicions.) Is it a new boyfriend? You won’t be able to shake that flea out until you find out!

In bocca al lupo. (Into the mouth of the wolf.)

This phrase is very common and if you spend any time with native Italian speakers you’ll hear it a lot.

It’s the equivalent of the English expression “break a leg.”

It wishes someone good luck—but not with the standard buona fortuna (good luck).

If you hear “In bocca al lupo!” you’ll know that you’re being wished well.

The customary reply is “crepi il lupo” (“the wolf cracks”) and even this reply isn’t literally translated. The wish isn’t that the wolf cracks but that the wolf dies.

However, in recent years the response has become grazie (thank you), because people don’t like the idea of wishing for a wolf to die!

L’ospite è come il pesce. Dopo tre giorni puzza. (The guest is like a fish. He smells after three days.)

This expression is a nice way of saying that you shouldn’t overstay your welcome. After a while, a guest starts to smell like three-day-old fish.

Unless you’ve been invited to stay a while, I’d remember this one. I’ve heard this directed toward a guest who lingered for—gasp!—four days!

Sputa il rospo. (Spit out the frog.)

The Italian equivalent to the English expression “don’t beat around the bush” is “sputa il rospo.”

In other words—just say it!

Throw the figurative frog out of your mouth and say what’s on your mind.


Italian phrases don’t need to be serious or even literal to be useful. Add these funny expressions into your vocabulary, speak like a native and have fun!

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