Italian Idioms with Animals

  1. Menare il can per l’aia (literally, to lead the dog through the farmyard) means to talk for a long time without coming to a conclusion, or to change the subject in order to avoid answering a specific question.  English speakers say, “don’t beat around the bush.”  Example: Per favore, rispondimi adesso, non menare il can per l’aia = Please, answer me now, don’t beat around the bush!
  2. Can che abbaia non morde (literally, the dog that barks doesn’t bite) indicates that a someone or something is not as dangerous as it seems.  English speakers might refer to someone as “all bark and no bite.” Example: Non preoccuparti, Luca si lamenta sempre, ma lui è un can che abbaia non morde = Don’t worry, Luca is always complaining, but his bark is worse than his bite.
  3. Essere a cavallo (literally, to be on a horse) means to solve a problem or overcome a difficulty, or to be close to solving a problem.  Example: Credevo di essere a cavallo ma all’improvviso ho incontrato un ostacolo ancora più grande = I thought I solved the problem but suddently I ran into an even bigger obstacle.
  4. Non c’é trippa per gatti (literally, there is no tripe for cats) means that you can’t always get what you want, or that you can’t expect things to rain down on you easily, without effort, like gifts from a third party. Example: Spero che i miei nonni mi comprino una macchina. La risposta: Non c’è possibilità…non c’è trippa per gatti = I hope that my grandparents will buy a car for me.  The answer: Not a chance…there is no tripe for cats!  Americans might say, “not a snowball’s chance in hell!”
  5. Il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio (literally, the wolf loses its fur but not his bad habits) means that a person cannot change his or her personality or habits, even if he or she tries hard or pretends to.  In English, one says “A leopard cannot change its spots” or “A tiger cannot lose its stripes.”  Example: Pochi mesi dopo essere uscito di prigioine, ha rubato di nuovo una macchina.  Purtroppo il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio = A few months after he got out of prison, he stole a car again.  Unfortunately, old habits die hard.
  6. Come un elefante in una cristalleria (literally, like an elephant in a glassware store) indicates a person who is tactless or who is not delicate in saying or doing things.  In English, one says that a person is like “a bull in a china shop,” which usually refers to someone who breaks things easily and causes a lot of physical harm to objects.  Example: Le abbiamo detto che era una situazione delicata, ma lei si è precipitate all’incontro come un elefante in una cristalleria = We told her that it was a delicate situation, but she stormed into the meeting like an elephant in a glassware or china shop.
  7. Chi dorme non piglia pesci (literally, who sleeps does not catch fish) refers to fishermen who must be constantly attentive without getting distracted or falling asleep in order to catch the fish when it bites.  In general, the expression means that one must pay attention and not wait too long in order to achieve goals.  English speakers say, “you snooze, you lose” or “the early bird catches the worm.” Example: Patrizia voleva fare un’offerta per l’appartamento che ha visto il mese scorso, ma ha aspettato troppo, e l’ha comprato un’altra persona.  Chi dorme non piglia pesci! = Patrizia wanted to make an offer for an apartment that she saw a month ago, but she waited too long, and another person bought it.  You snooze, you lose!
  8. Mettere la pulce nell’orecchio (literally to put the flea in the ear) refers to news that ignites our curiosity; it can be a doubt, a suspicion, or a positive suggestion.  In short, a flea in the ear is an idea that we cannot stop thinking about.  Examples: Se non mi avessi messo la pulce nell’orecchio non controllerei in continuazione se Simone è in ufficio = If you hadn’t put the idea in my head, I wouldn’t keep checking if Simone is in the office. Lucia mi ha messo la pulce nell’orecchio—devo assolutamente provare quella gelateria! = Lucia gave me the idea—I absolutely must try that gelato store!
  9. Una rondine non fa primavera (literally, one swallow does not make the spring) warns that an isolated sign is not sufficient to draw conclusions.  Among the variants are “un fiore non fa ghirlanda” = “one flower does not make a garland” and “un capello bianco non fa vecchiaia” = “one white hair does not make old age.”  Example: L’esperienza del capitano della nave gli ha insegnato che un alito di brezza non fa un vento, come una rondine non fa primavers = The experience of the ship’s captain taught him that a slight breeze does not make a wind, just like a swallow does not make spring.
  10. Sputare in rospo (literally, to spit the toad) means to confess or finally talk about something that fear, scruple or modesty had prevented in the past.  Example:  Dove eri la settimana scorsa?  Sputa il rospo e ti sentirai molto meglio = Where were you last week?  Spit it out and you will feel much better!
This entry was posted in Abitudini, Animali, Differenze culturali, English, Foto, La Lingua, Storia. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Italian Idioms with Animals

  1. Patricia Wall says:

    Love this animal topic. Good one!

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Jo Ann Chase says:

    Dear barbara, I was hoping to read this post but actual text didn’t come thru?? Xxx jo ann

    Sent from my iPhone


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