12 Funny Italian Phrases to Sound Authentic and Spread Some Smiles
Italian is funny.
I’m not joking.
Sure, it’s a wildly romantic language of love but Italian doesn’t stop at romance.
It heads straight to funny. Do not pass go, do not collect duecento euro (two hundred euros)—just go right on to completely comical.
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.
Pick up a few to sound like a native in Italy or among your Italian language friends.
But I’ve got to warn you: It’s going to be a challenge to just choose a couple. You’ll want them all, not just a few!
These phrases are a perfect way to expand your vocabulary.
Even better, you’ll understand what someone means when they send you to the mouth of the wolf.
Let’s see what funny phrases we can learn!
The Funny Side of Italian
If you only know Italian for its serious, romantic side, you’re missing out! Humor is a fantastic way to really understand a culture, and Italy’s humor is pretty great once you get to know it.
One of Italy’s most talented actors, Roberto Benigni, shows time and again that Italian phrases can be hilarious!
As Johnny Stecchino, he plays an inept bus driver with a fondness for stealing bananas who gets caught up in mob business. Stecchinio translates to “toothpick”—an item that’s typically not dull—but he’s shown as a complete bumbler who’s not at all sharp. The irony and twist of meaning aren’t lost on audiences!
“Il Mostro” (“The Monster”) is another of Begnini’s celebrated comedies. In nearly every scene, words are mixed up or twisted to suggest unusual things. It’s non-stop fun, mostly because of the meanings behind the dialogue!
As you’ll see below, sometimes the literal meaning of a word and the way native speakers actually use it aren’t always the same.
Enjoy the lighter side of Italian with these 12 funny phrases!
12 Funny Italian Phrases to Sound Authentic and Spread Some Smiles
È nei miei denti. (He’s in my teeth.)
When was the last time anyone actually had an actual person stuck in their teeth? A bit of broccoli, perhaps, but fitting an entire human being between teeth? Impossibile! (Impossible!)
Luckily, this expression isn’t meant to be taken literally. It means “I’ve had it up to here with that guy” and is usually accompanied by a hand wave toward the speaker’s mouth.
It shows a level of annoyance or just being fed up with someone.
Non avere peli sulla lingua! (Without hair on his 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 “Let him 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.
Ha ami da pesca in tasca. (He has fish hooks in his pockets.)
This is another reference to someone’s willingness to pony up some cash when a check arrives or there’s a bill to be paid.
If you say someone has fish hooks in their pockets it means, once again, that they’re cheap.
The idea is that the hooks secure your wallet to the insides of your pockets, preventing you from being able to pay for anything. “Sorry, I can’t take out my wallet… literally!”
You can expect to hear this one in restaurants. After all, we all have that one friend who heads for the bathroom when the check arrives, don’t we?
Mangiar questa minestra o saltar questa 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!
Spazza una nuova scopa. (A new broom sweeps.)
This expression has nothing to do with brooms.
Often used to describe a newcomer to a workplace, this is a way of saying that someone is trying to make a good impression or show that they belong in their new job.
So if your new office mate seems to be trying to show everyone else up, don’t worry about it. Spazza una nova scopa!
Remember, all brooms lose their “newness” eventually and don’t need to sweep up every crumb just to keep their space in the broom closet!
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)!
Per mettere le corna su qualcuno. (To put the horns on someone.)
Having a bit of bad luck? We’ve got the perfect phrase for you!
Anytime something doesn’t go your way, it’s because someone’s put the horns on you. In other words, someone’s given you bad luck.
This phrase explains why you just missed the last tickets to the Laura Pausini concert or why the parking lot near the entrance to il ristorante (the restaurant) is all full up on the day of your big date.
What would a culture be without a bit of home-grown superstition? And, really, letting someone else be responsible for your bad luck makes it a little easier to bear, doesn’t it?
If you’re wondering how to use it to explain your luck away, try “Mi ha messo le corna!” (“She put the horns on me!”) the next time Lady Luck hands you an unfortunate circumstance.
Don’t confuse this with the disparaging reference to cornuto (literally: horned), a word used to indicate someone whose spouse is cheating on them. Although for many, this could be considered a sign of bad luck!
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? Gettare la spugna.
A love affair going awry? Gettare la spugna.
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.
L’ospite è come un pesce. Ha un odore dopo tre giorni. (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.
With these amusing phrases, you’ll fit right in with native Italian speakers. Heck, you’ll sound like a native speaker!
Use these expressions to add to your language skills not only at home but also when you travel.
Even if you plan to explore some of Italy’s small villages, you’ll make friends using these fun phrases. People you meet will appreciate that you’ve put some extra effort into learning authentic expressions to add to ordinary conversations!
If you go to a zoo you’ll recognize the wolf—and wish him good luck!
Headed to la panetteria (the bakery)? Buy the bread, understand the layer of meaning and know that life is about more than just sweet, delicious bread!
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!