Funny Common Sayings in Italian!

Which are the most bizarre, absurd and funny, but also most common, Italian idioms?

Let’s find them out together!

12 Bizarre Italian Idioms

Let’s start immediately!

1. Lasciare/Rimanere di stucco

Stucco” is a plaster, lime or cement-based mixture with which statues are generally made of.

RIMANERE DI STUCCO (To be left astonished/stunned)

It means to be shocked, motionless and dumbfounded in amazement or surprise or astonishment, just like plaster statues.

If someone causes this to another person, then from his or her point of view it will LEAVE (SOMEONE) STUNNED (LASCIARE DI STUCCO).

For Example:

Il discorso che ha fatto ha lasciato tutti noi di stucco: non sapevamo sapesse parlare così bene. (The speech he did left all of us stunned (di stucco): we didn’t know he could speak so well).

2. Il cavallo di battaglia

The battle horse was the horse partially protected by armor that knights used in the past during wars. Because this was its purpose, it was usually particularly sturdy and well-trained, and enjoyed privileged treatment and feeding.

Nowadays, the expression denotes the best of the best, one’s strong suit, what one is best at, the best work or an activity, a subject at which one is best and most prepared.

For Example:

Se verranno ospiti a cena, preparerò le lasagne. Sono il mio cavallo di battaglia! Così possiamo fare bella figura. (If I have guests coming over for dinner, I will make lasagna. They are my forte (cavallo di battaglia)! That way we can make a good impression).

3. Avere la coda di paglia

It is said of someone who, not having a clear conscience, clears himself without being accused because he feels called into question, involved in a statement, even if he is not really.

The image comes from a fable in which a fox loses its tail and decides to use one made of straw, living in constant fear that it will catch fire.

For Example:

– Che strano, pensavo ci fosse ancora della torta in frigo… (That’s funny, I thought there was still cake in the fridge….)

-Io non l’ho mangiata eh… (I didn’t eat it…)

-Nessuno ti stava accusando! Non avrai mica la coda di paglia? (No one was accusing you! You don’t have a straw tail, do you?)

4. Cercare il pelo nell’uovo

It means to be overly meticulous, perfectionist in the extreme; looking for flaws in everything and everyone, even if they are imperceptible or even absent.

For Example:

-Mi piacciono le tue scarpe, ma non le avrei usate con questo vestito perché sono di tonalità di verde un po’ diverse tra loro. (I like your shoes, but I wouldn’t have used them with this dress because they are a slightly different shade of green).

-Vabbè adesso non cercare il pelo nell’uovo… è stato già abbastanza difficile trovare queste di questo colore. (Well now don’t be so meticulous… it was hard enough to find these in this color).

5.  Sputare il rospo

It means to finally say something that you couldn’t or wouldn’t say previously (a concern, a secret…).

For Example:

Forza! Sputa il rospo! Raccontaci chi era la persona che ti piaceva al liceo! (Come on! Spill the beans! Tell us who was the person you liked in high school!)

6.  Darsi/Tirarsi la zappa sui piedi

They both mean to self-damage unintentionally or in moments of lack of clarity (anger, fear…).

A synonym might be “Scavarsi la fossa con le proprie mani” (“Digging your own grave with your own hands.“).

For Example:

Dicendole che sei bravo a scrivere ti sei dato la zappa sui piedi: adesso Sabrina ti chiederà sempre di scrivere cose per lei! (By telling her you’re good at writing you’ve shot yourself in the foot: now Sabrina will always ask you to write things for her!)

7.  Avere il dente avvelenato

It means to feel resentment, to hold a grudge against someone.

For Example:

Mario ha ancora il dente avvelenato per quella vecchia storia con Luca, perciò non lo ha invitato al suo compleanno. (Mario still holds a grudge against Luca for that old issue, so he did not invite him to his birthday party).

8.  O la va o la spacca

Indicates a bet, a “calculated” gamble: you know the risks and you don’t have absolute certainty of succeeding in what you are doing, but you do it anyway.

For Example:

Dopo anni, ho trovato il coraggio di chiedere al capo un aumento. Sto andando proprio ora nel suo ufficio: non so come la prenderà, ma lo scopriremo… O la va o la spacca! (After years, I found the courage to ask the boss for a raise. I’m on my way to his office right now: I don’t know how he’ll take it, but we’ll find out– it’s do or die!)

9.  Qui gatta ci cova

Used if a situation comes across as strange or unconvincing, to indicate that there is probably something shady or unclear going on.

The reference is to the cat seen as a cunning animal, which, on the surface, shows itself to be oblivious and harmless, when in fact it is waiting for a good opportunity to make its move.

But why “brooding” if the cat obviously does not brood? This could stem from the position the feline assumes, a position called “brooding,” when it is ready to attack a prey.

For Example:

Silvia e Francesco assicurano di non provare nulla l’una per l’altro, eppure quando usciamo insieme a loro sembrano troppo affiatati e c’è ottima intesa tra loro… Secondo me, qui gatta ci cova! (Silvia and Francesco assure that they do not feel anything for each other, yet when we go out with them they seem too close and there is excellent understanding between them… In my opinion, here I smell a rat!)

10.  Non tutte le ciambelle escono col buco

Not everything is perfect, not every plan goes right, not everything succeeds as expected.

It is called this because at the end of baking, when coming out of the oven, the hole in the doughnuts may have closed up as the dough swells.

For Example:

Ho provato a cucire un vestito per mia figlia ma il risultato non è dei migliori. Comunque non mi arrendo: non tutte le ciambelle escono col buco. Ci riproverò con una stoffa diversa! (I tried to sew a dress for my daughter but the result is not the best. However, I’m not giving up: not every doughnut comes out with a hole. I will try again with a different fabric!)

11.  Mangiare la foglia

To take a hint, to intuit in advance, to be able to read between the lines even the hidden meanings, often avoiding a danger.

Where does the meaning of the expression come from?

Probably from the Odyssey, because Odysseus on the island of the sorceress Circe (who turned men into beasts), to escape the magic ate a leaf given to him by Hermes.

For Example:

Non ha più senso tenergli nascosta la verità… Ormai ha mangiato la foglia… Tanto vale raccontargli anche i dettagli… (There is no longer any point in keeping the truth from him– he has now eaten the leaf– he might as well tell him the details as well…)

12.  Nascere con la camicia

To be especially lucky.

For Example:

Marco è proprio nato con la camicia: la sua famiglia è molto ricca, è un bell’uomo, lavora come amministratore delegato dell’azienda di famiglia e sua moglie e i suoi due figli gli vogliono molto bene. (Marco was indeed born with a shirt: his family is very wealthy, he is a handsome man, he works as the CEO of the family business, and his wife and two children love him very much):

If you want to discover which are the most common Italian expressions with the means of transport, don’t forget to check out our lesson about this topic.

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