From Fairy Tales to Everyday Life

Welcome to the enchanting world of fairy tales! In this article, you will get to know some Italian expressions inspired by fairy tales and their characters.

Are you ready to be enchanted?

Fairy-Tale-related Idioms: Everyday Life Metaphors

1. LA BELLA ADDORMENTATA

Who is the “Bella addormentata”?

Aurora, one of the beloved fairy-tale princesses, who falls into a deep sleep waiting for her prince.

With these words, we refer to a person who is very calm, quite naive, and often lost in thought, frequently unaware of what is happening around them, including potential dangers.

EXAMPLE:

Che stai facendo lì come la bella addormentata? Svegliati! C’è ancora tanto lavoro da fare! [What are you doing there, like Sleeping Beauty? Wake up! There’s still a lot of work to do!]

2. C’ERA UNA VOLTA

“C’era una volta” is the classic expression fairy tales usually begin with.

Used in everyday life, it is used to introduce a story and emphasize that it is something that happened in an indefinite, very generic past.

EXAMPLE:

C’era una volta un mondo senza cellulari, in cui non era possibile contattare una persona se questa non si trovava a casa. Sembra preistoria, eppure sono solo alcuni anni fa. [Once upon a time, there was a world without cell phones, where it was not possible to contact a person if they were not at home. It seems like prehistory, and yet it was only a few years ago.]

3. E VISSERO PER SEMPRE FELICI E CONTENTI

“E vissero per sempre felici e contenti”, unlike the previous one, is the classic expression fairy tales usually end with… at least those with a happy ending.

In everyday life, it is used to indicate the conclusion of an event or a relationship in an optimistic and positive way.

EXAMPLE:

Matteo e Sara si erano conosciuti al liceo ma poi si sono persi di vista. Un paio di anni fa si sono ritrovati per caso in Giappone e hanno passato una settimana insieme. Nel giro di due mesi hanno deciso di andare a vivere insieme e sposarsi, e vissero felici e contenti. [Matteo and Sara had met in high school, but then lost touch. A couple of years ago, they coincidentally reunited in Japan and spent a week together. Within two months, they decided to live together and get married, and they lived happily ever after.]

4. LA GALLINA DALLE UOVA D’ORO

This expression refers to an Aesop’s fable: a man had a hen that laid a golden egg every day. Unsatisfied, he decided to kill it hoping to find a lot of gold inside, but instead, it was just an ordinary hen… and he lost a good source of wealth.

In today’s everyday life, it is used to refer to a person, activity, or condition that turns out to be extremely profitable, bringing in a lot of money.

EXAMPLE:

Marco ha trovato la gallina dalle uova d’oro: sua moglie è la figlia di un imprenditore milionario della città. [Marco found the golden goose: his wife is the daughter of a millionaire entrepreneur in the city.]

5. MORALE DELLA FAVOLA

The “morale” is a message contained in a fable with the aim of providing a lesson and advising correct behavior.

The expression is used in everyday life in a humorous way to draw conclusions from something.

EXAMPLE:

Eravamo andati a letto tardi la sera prima, avevamo bevuto un po’, la mattina la sveglia non ha suonato e il cellulare nel frattempo si era scaricato. Morale della favola: abbiamo perso il treno e abbiamo dovuto aspettare quello del giorno dopo! [We had gone to bed late the night before, had a few drinks, the alarm didn’t go off in the morning, and in the meantime, the phone had run out of battery. Long story short: we missed the train and had to wait for the one the next day!]

6. RAPERONZOLO

Raperonzolo is the famous princess with very long hair, protagonist of a fairy tale.

Therefore, using “Raperonzolo” to refer to someone means that the person has thick, strong, and long hair.

EXAMPLE:

Che bei capelli! Sembri Raperonzolo! Cosa fai per mantenerli così forti? [What beautiful hair! You look like Rapunzel! What do you do to keep them so strong?]

7. BIANCANEVE

Biancaneve is the famous princess from a fairy tale with a white and pale face, which is why she was named “Snow White.”

When referring to someone as “Biancaneve”, it means that that person has a very fair complexion or is particularly pale.

EXAMPLE:

Miriam si abbronza difficilmente, sembra proprio Biancaneve. [Miriam tans with difficulty; she really looks like Snow White.]

8. LA PRINCIPESSA SUL PISELLO

“The Princess and the Pea” is also another children’s fairy tale, like the previous ones.

The princess in the story was subjected to a test to see if she was truly a princess: to sleep on 20 mattresses and 20 pillows, under which there was a pea. Her identity was confirmed because the next morning she claimed she couldn’t sleep well due to something hard, demonstrating that only a princess could have such sensitivity.

When used today in everyday life, referring to a woman, it indicates in a somewhat offensive and derogatory sense that she has a snobbish, presumptuous, arrogant, and condescending attitude.

EXAMPLE:

Eccola, è arrivata la principessa sul pisello! Nascondete tutto, prima che cominci a commentare e a dare i suoi giudizi non richiesti! [Here she is, the princess and the pea has arrived! Hide everything before she starts commenting and giving her unsolicited judgments!]

9. LUPUS IN FABULA

This (Latin) expression derives from the fact that the wolf is a recurring character in fairy tales.

Nowadays, it is a proverbial way of referring to someone (who was being talked about shortly before or at that moment) who has just arrived.

Another similar expression is “Parli del diavolo e spuntano le corna”.

EXAMPLE:

Paolo ha sbagliato tutto il progetto… Ora come glielo diciamo che deve rifarlo da zero? Oh lupus in fabula! Eccolo che arriva! Allora, chi glielo dice? [Paolo messed up the entire project… Now, how do we tell him he has to redo it from scratch? Oh, speak of the devil! Here he comes! So, who’s going to break the news to him?]

10. DA FAVOLA

Using this expression in reference to something or someone means “particularly beautiful, fantastic, incredible, sensational.”

EXAMPLE:

Quello di Marco e Sofia è stato davvero un matrimonio da favola! Tutto era perfetto, dal cibo ai fiori alle parole degli sposi, che hanno fatto commuovere tutti. [Marco and Sofia’s wedding was truly a fairy-tale affair! Everything was perfect, from the food to the flowers to the words of the couple, which moved everyone.]

11. IL PRINCIPE AZZURRO

We all know the “prince charming,” don’t we? The famous fairy tale character who arrives on a white horse to save the protagonist in distress.

In Italian, this expression can be used in everyday life to describe a man who is handsome, elegant, kind, and charming.

Alternatively, it can be used ironically for someone who believes they are like that but they’re actually not.

EXAMPLE:

Carla ha finalmente trovato il principe azzurro: il suo fidanzato sembra davvero una brava persona. [Carla has finally found her Prince Charming; her boyfriend seems like a really good person.]

12. CENERENTOLA

Cinderella is the protagonist of the eponymous fairy tale who, on the night of the ball, must return home before midnight, when the spell will be broken.

Typically, this expression is used jokingly among friends to refer to that person who always has to go home early or, in any case, before everyone else.

EXAMPLE:

Perché fai sempre la Cenerentola di turno? Ormai vivi da sola, non devi più rispettare gli orari dei tuoi genitori. Rimani ancora un po’ con noi! Ci stiamo divertendo. [Why do you always play the Cinderella? Now that you live on your own, you don’t have to abide by your parents’ schedule anymore. Stay with us a little longer! We’re having fun.]

If you wish to broaden your knowledge of the Italian language and culture, we suggest you to read our article about the strangest Italian translations of foreign film titles, to make your learning more enjoyable and effortless.

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