“I’m as healthy as a fish” and other Italian Figures of Speech

Market2One of the questions I was asked most frequently as I was preparing to move to Italy is: “How much Italian do you know?” As of today, I would classify my Italian language skills as: “functional but far from fluent.” I hope someday I will be mostly fluent but that day is still a long way off. For now, I am trying to improve a little each day.

One specific area I am working on is learning more idiomatic expressions and figures of speech (FoS). Here are a few examples of some common Italian expressions and FoS. Some of these are pretty universal while others that are particular to Italian, offer little hints and glimpses into the cultural norms and values embedded deep within the language itself.

Italian (IT): Non e bello cio che e bello, ma e bello cio che piace.

Translation (TR): Beauty is not what’s beautiful, but beauty is what one likes.

English Equivalent (EE): Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


IT: Sono sano come un pesce.

TR: I am as healthy as a fish.

EE: I am as fit as a fiddle.


IT: Vogliono rendere pane per focaccia.

TR: They want to give bread back for focaccia.

EE: They want to get even.


IT: No so che pesci pigliare.

TR:  I don’t know know which fish to catch.

EE: I don’t know what to do.


IT: Acqua in bocca!

TR: Water in mouth!

EE: Mum’s the word!


IT: È stato un colpo di fulmine.

TR: It was a strike of lightning.

EE: It was love at first sight.


IT: Stanno discutendo sul sesso degli angeli.

TR: They’re talking about the gender of angels.

EE: They are discussing futile things.


IT: Sembra che Marco da i numeri.

TR: It seems that Mark is giving numbers.

EE: Mark is out of his mind.


IT: Ho le tasche piene di quell’uomo.

TR: I have a full pocket of that man.

EE: I am fed up with that man.


IT: Fai attenzione. E un venditore di fumo.

TR: Pay attention. He’s a smoke salesman.

EE: Be careful. He’s a fake.


IT: Andiamo al dunque.

TR: Let’s go to the therefore.

EE: Get to the point.


IT: Ho letto un giallo.

TR: I read a yellow.

EE: I read a mystery story.


IT: Potrei toccare il cielo con un dito!

TR: I could touch the sky with a finger!

EE: I’m on cloud nine!


IT: Un bel gioco dura poco.

TR: A good game lasts a short time.

EE: All good things must come to an end.


IT: Sai che roba!

TR: You know what stuff!

EE: Big deal!


IT: Gli dai un ditto e si prende un braccio.

TR: Give him a finger and he will take an arm.

EE: Give him an inch and he will take a mile.


IT: Chi ha tempo non aspetta tempo.

TR: One who has time doesn’t wait for time.

EE: There is no time like the present.


Alcuni Altri:

“Lost in a glass of water”

“Tomorrow is another day”

“If God wills it”

“I need to eat more fish”

A note about this last example: Long before recent studies have linked eating fish regularly with having a decreased likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s or dementia, Sicilian’s have been using this phrase whenever someone has a hard time remembering something. Among this short list of examples, this is the third that mentions fish. Fishing is an important industry here in Sicily and seafood consequently, is a common staple within Sicilian cuisine. It makes perfect sense then that so many of the local figures of speech should use everyday subjects such as fish.

How might the figures of speech unique to your own local culture reflect your culture’s values?

Click here to read an article called: The 19 Funniest Expressions In Italian (And How To Use Them)

See the article: “Italian Proverbs 1” on the Life In Italy website for even more examples.


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