New reader Marlene, who is making the move to Italy soon, has been learning Italian (good for you!). She came across a less idiotic idiom list than my own, which includes many words and phrases I use and hear all the time when speaking Italian – so I thought I’d share them with you, lest you think Italians only go around talking about poppies and stirrups.
Oh, which reminds me – I was watching, or maybe listening to something, the other day – damn, what was it?! – it was British people, maybe it was a Ricky Gervais podcast? Well, anyway, I think they were saying something about being or acting high poppy or something or other.
I just got off the phone with Fi, who’s veddy English and says she’s never heard of it, so maybe I dreamt it!
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Anyway, let’s go over the list of idioms that are more commonly used. When you’re becoming fluent in a language, you’ll find these are the “throw-away” phrases that come to you in Italian first, before most other words. At least, I did.
Means: This has a couple of meanings. Sometimes it is used in response to something that’s said – the way we would say, Amen, brother or exactly. But most times, it is used by the person who is speaking, to indicate that there’s nothing more to say on the matter. “I told him I was sick of driving him everywhere, and he could walk from now on. Amen.”
Idiom: Che barba and che noia
Pronounce: kay bahr-ba; kay noy-ya
Means: How annoying, how boring. My Gay mafia uses these two together: Che noia che barba che noia! If someone is telling you that they had to sit next to their boring podiatrist uncle for the whole wedding, you’d sympathize by saying, che barba. If you’re driving around the parking lot for an hour trying to find a spot, you’d say, che noia. Both are whiny-ly drawn out – che barbaaaaa, che noiaaaaaa.
Idiom: Che schifo
Pronounce: kay skee-foe (correct); kay-shkey-foe (funnier)
Means: Gross! It can be used as a reaction to anything from fashion faux pas to unidentifiable food in the fridge.
Idiom: Da morire
Pronounce: dah mo-rear-ay (correct); damoREE (in dialect or when talking too fast. Ahem.)
Means: To die for. This is one that I got wrong for a year before the Gay mafia corrected me; I used to say, di morire. Don’t ask me what the difference is, but again the vowels make or break you in Italian. Anyway, anything from a meal to a performance to an outfit is da morire.
Means: Really truly? Depending on your inflection, it can be used sarcastically – just like in English. “I got you a puppy.” Davvero?! (clap hands excitedly for prezzies) “I’m dating George Clooney.” Davvero. (give withering look and slowly sip your wine)
If you’re really asking, “Really?” like, if someone called you and told you that someone you just saw yesterday is in the hospital, you’d say, “sul serio?” (sool sair-ee-o) – are you serious?
Idiom: Lascia perdere; lascia stare
Pronounce: lah-shah-PEAR-dair-ay; lah-shah-STAH-ray
Means: Drop it, let it go, leave it alone. Lascia perdere is more about a subject matter; lascia stare is more about an object.
Idiom: Ma va
Pronounce: mah vah
Means: No way; go on; get outta town. Best used when gossiping. I’ve also heard this used when someone is annoyed in an incredulous way by what someone has said, as a way of stopping before finishing it with a “…fa in culo.” But, it’s more often heard in a hair dresser’s: Ma vaaaaaaaaaaa.
Idiom: Meno male
Pronounce: may-no mah-lay
Means: It literally means “less bad,” and is used… God, this one is so hard. I say this all the time, too. And now I’m blanking in English, too, because obviously no one says “less bad.” I guess it could be loosely translated as, “Everything worked out, so there’s no need to worry.” Jesus, that definition sucks. It’s like, if you were rushing to get to the theater on time, and you bust open the doors and find the curtain still hasn’t gone up yet, you’d turn to your date, shrug and say, meno male.
Idiom: Per carità
Pronounce: pair cah-ree-TA
Means: This one is SO AWESOME. It literally means, “for charity.” But people use it like, oh puh-leeze, come on, give me a break here, for chrissakes. “I’m supposed to pay the rent, all the bills, and make you dinner while you sit around watching football? Per carità.”
Idiom: Porca miseria
Pronounce: poor-cah mee-ZAIR-ee-ah
Means: Hahahahahah this one literally means, “misery pig” and has more uses than a Swiss Army knife. Flight canceled? PORCA MISERIA. Customer in front of you is paying in pennies while your gelato melts down your arm? PORCA MISERIA. Break a nail while rushing to an appointment late? PORCA MISERIA. Miss the turn on the highway, and now you have to drive 30 miles to the next one and come 30 miles back, and the exit on the other side of the highway will not put you where you need to be? PORCA MISERIA.
There are several cuss-wordy variations of porca miseria, none of which can be printed in something my mother reads. But man, are they fun to listen to someone say, especially when you’re not involved in their personal version of hell.
So many of these Italian idioms remind me of physical gestures Italians do, many of which are a million times more descriptive than anything that comes out of their mouths. I sense another post coming.