5 common Italian idioms

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Federica Italian
August 5, 2016
2 minutes
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What do you think the following expressions mean in the Italian language? Test yourself and try to guess!

  1. Lui è un pezzo da novanta
  2. Oggi siamo quattro gatti
  3. Maria è una ragazza acqua e sapone
  4. Vorrei proprio tagliare la corda da questo posto
  5. In questo periodo sono al verde

Allora, com’è andata? So, how did it go?

I know it's hard, because idioms tend to confuse those unfamiliar with them!

So, why learn them? Since idioms are influenced by the culture, learning them can be useful in understanding everyday life in Italy.

Let's analyze the following expressions:

  1. Lui è un pezzo da novanta

The first part of the phrase is easy to understand ("He is"). But, what about “pezzo da novanta”? The literal meaning is “He is a piece of ninety". Well... this translation doesn't really help clarify the idiom's true meaning, because an idiomatic expression is different from the literal meaning. There are thousands of idioms, and they occur frequently in all languages. The Italian language is full of them too.

"Lui è un pezzo da novanta" means that he is a powerful person, someone with big influence. The term appears to come from the mafia environment.

Remember: Essere un pezzo da novanta = to be a powerful person

  1. Oggi siamo quattro gatti

Sound weird? Well, you’re right, it does, how can anyone literally be a cat? When one uses this expression, one wants to say that in the place where they are, there are only a few people. The above phrase means that "today we are a handful of people" and not "today we are four cats".

Remember: Essere quattro gatti = to be a handful of people

  1. Maria è una ragazza acqua e sapone

Is it possible to be water and soap? So, what does it mean in the Italian language? Its actual meaning is a girl that is naturally beautiful, and doesn't need makeup. Therefore, Maria is the girl next door, natural and fresh faced.

Remember: Essere acqua e sapone = to be the girl next door, natural, fresh faced

  1. Vorrei proprio tagliare la corda da questo posto

Literally, “tagliare la corda” means to physically cut the cord and the translation of the above phrase is “I really would like to cut the cord from this place”. This is a common Italian idiom used when someone wants to run away from the place he or she is. Another example is “Ha tagliato la corda prima che la polizia potesse prenderlo” and the meaning is "He ran away before the police could catch him".

Remember: Tagliare la corda = to run away

  1. In questo periodo sono al verde

The colour green, verde in Italian language, is the colour of money. The literal meaning of this phrase is “in this period I’m in the green”. However, contrary to what you might think, this expression is used when someone is without money. It can be compared to the English version of “to be penniless” or “to be broke”.

Remember: Essere al verde = to be broke

I hope you had fun! Idioms can be enlightening!

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