funny-italian-phrases

20 Funny Italian Phrases

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 20 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.

Contents

1. Cadere dalle nuvole.  

Literal translation: To fall from the clouds

Meaning: To be very surprised/astounded

This phrase is used to show surprise at something or someone. 

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.)

2. Non avere peli sulla lingua!  

Literal meaning: To not have hair on the tongue

Meaning: To tell the truth

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.

Parla senza peli sulla lingua! Voglio sapere cosa è successo! (Tell the truth! I want to know what happened!)

3. Avere le braccine corte.  

Literal meaning: To have short arms

Meaning: To describe a person as “cheap”

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.

La mia amica ha le braccine corte. Non vuole mai pagare niente. (My friend is cheap. She never wants to pay for anything.)

4. Gettare fumo negli occhi.  

Literal meaning: To throw smoke into someone’s eyes

Meaning: To make someone oblivious to the truth

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.

Cerca di essere gentile e di gettare fumo negli occhi delle persone, ma parla male degli altri alle loro spalle. (He tries to be nice and pull the wool over people’s eyes, but talks badly about others behind their backs.)

5. Scoprire l’acqua calda.  

Literal meaning: To discover hot water

Meaning: To reinvent the wheel

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.)

6. Mangi questa minestra o salti dalla finestra.  

Literal meaning: To eat the soup or jump out of the window

Meaning: Take it or leave it

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!

Non c’è altra opzione. Mangi questa minestra o salti dalla finestra. (There is no other option. Take it or leave it.)

7. Scopa nuova spazza bene per tre giorni.  

Literal meaning: A new broom sweeps well for three days

Meaning: Everything loses its newness sooner or later

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.

Si pentirà di averti lasciata per un’altra ragazza. Scopa nuova spazza bene per tre giorni. (He’ll regret leaving you for another girl. He’ll soon lose the excitement of his relationship.)

8. Non si vive di solo pane.  

Literal meaning: You don’t live with just bread

Meaning: There’s more to life than the basics

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.

Non pensarci due volte prima di viaggiare per il mondo. Non si vive di solo pane! (Don’t think twice about traveling the world. There’s more to life than the basics!)

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

9. Essere in alto mare.  

Literal meaning: To be out on the open sea

Meaning: To be far from a solution, to have a long way to go

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.)

10. Gettare la spugna.  

Literal meaning: Throw in the sponge

Meaning: To give up on something or someone, to throw in the towel

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.

Se non ti piace più il tuo lavoro, è ora di gettare la spugna. La cosa più importante è essere felice. (If you don’t like your job anymore, it’s time to throw in the towel. The most important thing is to be happy.)

A love affair going awry? Getta la spugna.

11. Rompere le uova nel paniere.  

Literal meaning: To break the eggs in the basket

Meaning: To upset or spoil someone’s plans

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.)

12. Mettere la pulce nell’orecchio (a qualcuno).  

Literal meaning: To put a flea in someone’s ear

Meaning: To make someone suspicious, to arouse someone’s suspicions

Okay, you’re not literally putting fleas in anyone’s ears. But 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!

13. In bocca al lupo.

Literal meaning: Into the mouth of the wolf

Meaning: “Break a leg!”/Good luck!

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.” For example:

Domani ho un esame di italiano. (Tomorrow I have an Italian exam.)

In bocca al lupo! (Good luck!)

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!

14. L’ospite è come il pesce. Dopo tre giorni puzza.  

Literal meaning: The guest is like a fish. He smells after three days.

Meaning: You shouldn’t overstay your welcome

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.

Amo i miei suoceri, ma sono rimasti per un mese intero! (I love my in-laws, but they stayed for an entire month!)

L’ospite è come il pesce. Dope tre giorni puzza! (You shouldn’t overstay your welcome.)

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!

15. Sputa il rospo.  

Literal meaning: Spit out the frog

Meaning: Don’t beat around the bush, just say it

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.

Mi ha detto di non dire niente, ma non lo so… voglio dirlo ma… (He told me not to say anything, but I don’t know… I want to say it but…)

Dai, Laura! Cosa è successo? Sputa il rospo! (Come on Laura! What’s happened? Just say it.)

16. Buono come il pane.

Literal meaning: As good as bread

Meaning: A kind person, a good person

Bread is an important part of Italian gastronomy and culture. From focaccia to ciabatta, Italy is famous for its delicious types of bread. So hearing someone describe you as “good as bread” is a true compliment!

This saying is used in Italian to describe someone as “kind” or “good.” This is someone who is often respected by other people for their nature.

Enrico, sei buono come il pane! (Enrico, you’re so kind!)

17. Avere un cervello di gallina.

Literal meaning: To have a chicken’s brain

Meaning: To be less intelligent, to be stupid

In English, saying that someone has a “bird brain” or a “pea brain” means that they are not very intelligent.

In Italian, the equivalent is to have a chicken’s brain.

Sono andato all’aeroporto senza il mio passaporto e non mi hanno permesso di viaggiare! (I went to the airport without my passport and they didn’t allow me to travel!)

Giovanni, non posso crederci! Hai un cervello di gallina! (Giovanni, I can’t believe it! You’re stupid!)

18. Non vedo l’ora.

Literal meaning: I don’t see the time

Meaning: To be excited about something

This is a common phrase in Italian to express that you are excited about something, for example, a vacation, concert, family gathering, etc.

La prossima settimana andrò a trovare la mia famiglia in Sicilia, non vedo l’ora! (Next week I’m going to Sicily to visit my family, I can’t wait!)

19. Prendere un granchio

Literal meaning: To catch a crab

Meaning: To make a [big] mistake, to make a blunder

Have you ever felt embarrassed after making a significant mistake? This can be anything from interpreting a situation wrong to missing out on key information.

In Italian, when you make such a mistake, you catch a crab.

Quando l’ho visto al parco l’ho chiamato Luca ma lui mi ha detto che si chiama Lorenzo!  (When I saw him at the park I called him Luca but he told me his name is Lorenzo!)

Che imbarazzo! Hai preso un granchio! (How embarrassing! You made a mistake!)

20. Chi dorme non piglia pesci 

Literal meaning: He who sleeps doesn’t catch fish

Meaning: You won’t get anything without hard work

In English, we have the saying “the early bird catches the worm,” which highlights that if you really put in the effort and work hard, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.

In Italian, the saying is Chi dorme non piglia pesci, which means “He who sleeps doesn’t catch fish.” 

Maria si lamenta di non avere soldi ma non vuole lavorare. (Maria complains about not having any money but she doesn’t want to work.)

Le ho detto che chi dorme non piglia pesci. (I have told her that she won’t get anything without working for it.)

 

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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