@hexxvx asked for a post on Italian idioms, and this is it. Now, we have A LOT of them (as many languages do), and I really didn’t know which ones to select, so I just went with some pertaining to three major groups (those who mention animals, body parts [I mostly left out the vulgar ones here, but I could make a post on those too if you’d like me to] and food) and a couple of bonus ones. The Food and Miscellanea categories are under the cut because this is already long enough as it is, hahaha.
Enjoy and please ask if you have any questions!
In bocca al lupo/in culo alla balena – Good luck/Break a leg (lit. “in the mouth of the wolf/in the ass of the whale”)
Honestly, I tend to use the first one more ‘cause the other is a bit gross, haha. I someone wishes you “in bocca al lupo”, you should answer “crepi [il lupo]” (“may [the wolf] die”) or also, if you are a loser like I am, “viva il lupo” (“may the wolf live”), while if someone says “in culo alla balena” the correct reply is “speriamo che non caghi” (“let’s hope it doesn’t shit”).
Il bue che dice cornuto all'asino – The pot calling the kettle black (lit. “the ox calling the donkey horned”)
When somebody accuses someone else of a fault which they themselves share. We’ll get to other meanings of “cornuto” later (spoiler: it’s cuckold) which give this idiom subtler nuances.
Una gallina dalle uova d'oro – A golden goose (lit. “hen with the golden eggs”)
Coming from Aesop’s fables, this idiom refers to something that generates great profit.
Una gatta da pelare – A tough nut to crack (lit. “a cat to skin”)
“Avere una [bella] gatta da pelare” basically means being faced with a difficult task, and I guess because poor cats rightfully won’t let you skin them so easily.
Menare il can per l'aia – To beat around the bush (lit. “to lead the dog around the yard”)
Don’t be fooled by the meaning that the verb “menare” has acquired nowadays (at least in central Italy): the poor dog is not being beaten, but rather led around in circles without a real purpose. This is an old idiom, also featured in Goldoni’s plays, dating back to the 18th century!
Prendere due piccioni con una fava – To kill two birds with one stone (lit. “to catch two pigeons with one fava bean”)
The meaning is essentially the same, though our version is less cruel and more precise (I honestly don’t know why one would want to catch pigeons in particular, though).
Un freddo cane – Damn cold (lit. “dog cold”)
When someone says that “fa un freddo cane”, they mean that the day is the coldest they’ve seen in quite a long time. The addition of “cane” is, basically, a way to insult the cold itself, and can actually be applied to other expressions as well: if a broken limb “fa un male cane”, for example, it means that it hurts real bad.
Sputare il rospo – To spit it out (lit. “to spit the toad out”)
You’ve been guarding a secret that weighs upon your chest, and a friend of yours is trying to get it out of you. After a couple of useless tries, they might lose their temper and burst into an exasperated: “Sputa il rospo!” (“spit it out!”) in order to persuade you to confess.
Avere le braccine corte – To be tightfisted (lit. “to have tiny, short arms”)
It’s not a particularly nice thing to say, but this idiom applies to those who just won’t spend their money, ever. If one is a bit stingy, we say he or she has short arms, so short that they can’t reach in their pockets!
Avere la coda di paglia – To have a guilty conscience (lit. “to have a tail made of straw”)
The expression probably dates back to the Middle Ages, when those who had been defeated or condemned were made to walk around wearing a straw-tail, that could easily get burned to add to their humiliation. Someone who has a tail made of straw worries about seemingly minor details, and acts defensively out of fear of being exposed.
Braccia rubate all'agricoltura – Someone who isn’t very bright doing a job they’re not fit for (lit. “arms stolen from farming”)
A funny one, albeit undoubtedly snobbish. It can be said of someone who’d be better off cultivating the land rather than exerting themselves in intellectual purposes.
Essere di bocca buona – To eat anything (lit. “to have a kind mouth”)
A person who is “di bocca buona” will not request an elaborated (and probably expensive) dish, and will rather be satisfied with whathever they’ll find on their plate.
Fare le corna a qualcuno – To cheat on somebody (lit. “to put horns on somebody”)
Some argue that the origin of the idiom is to be sought in the Greek myth of the Minotaur, born of the adulterous relationship between Pasiphaë, queen of Crete, and a bull. Generally speaking, “fare le corna” is a propitiatory gesture thought to keep bad luck away.
Fare orecchie da mercante – To turn a deaf ear (lit. “to do a merchant’s ears”)
Its presence in written Italian has been attested since the 14th century, and in a comedy written by Anton Francesco Grazzini in the following century, the author himself explains it thus: “[Merchants] only hear what pleases them”.
Non avere peli sulla lingua – To not sugar-coat things (lit. “to not have hair on one’s tongue”)
This expression is fit for someone who always says things the way they are, if a little harshly, without worrying too much about the way others could react.
Togliersi un peso dallo stomaco – To take something off one’s chest (lit. “to take a weight off one’s stomach”)
Basically the same as in English.