Idioms About Food That Will Make You a Real Italian

  • April 8, 2019

We all know that Italy is a great place where you can eat loads of super tasty and healthy food..BUT… did you know that in Italian there are so many idioms about food and drinks?

They are frequently used in everyday life, and if you know how to use them you will surprise all your Italian friends. To use them properly may be a bit hard, but with this short article I want to help you understand better how and when to use them.

Okay, let’s start our trip!

The first idiom I want to introduce is “Acqua in bocca“, which literally means “water in the mouth“. A bit weird, isn’t it? Well, when we tell a friend a secret and we want our friend to keep the secret and don’t tell it to anyone, we can say “Acqua in bocca”.

This idiom has a religious origin: it seems it was seen for the first time in 1760 on a newspaper called Gazzetta Veneta. There, an article reported that a girl asked for help to a priest on how avoid telling backbitings. The priest told her to keep water in her mouth every time she felt like she would say something bad about another person. Interesting, isn’t it?

“Giulia! Devo dirti una cosa… ma è un segreto!!

Va bene Laura, dimmi…

Ieri ho visto Luca a cena con una ragazza… che non era Maria… ma non dirlo a nessuno!! Acqua in bocca, mi raccomando!”

(Giulia! I must tell you something, but it’s a secret!!

Okay, Laura, tell me…

Yesterday I saw Luca having dinner with a girl..that wasn’t Maria..but don’t tell it to anyone! Keep the secret!!)

The second idiom is “Tutto fa brodo”, literally “everything makes a bouillon”, which would be, in proper English, “It’s all grist for my mill”We use this expression when we are extremely short of resources or when we want to say that everything can be useful for our purpose.

For example:

Ho venduto la macchina. Non ho fatto molti soldi, ma sai… tutto fa brodo!

(I sold my car. I didn’t make a lot of money’s all grist for my mill!)

This expression comes from rural times: usually a good broth is made with meat, but since it was very expensive, everything else was good to prepare the soup: from poorer parts of meat to leftovers of vegetables.

The third idiom is “Andare a tutta birra (beer)”. In this case we see that we use a drink, and not something to eat. Andare a tutta birra means walk extremely fast, or do something really fast.

This idiom comes most probably from the french “à toute bride (bridle)”, and it was misspelled and translated with the word “beer”.

“Sono proprio felice, Luca sta facendo la maratona a tutta birra!”

“I’m really happy, Luca is running the marathon really fast!”

The fourth idiom is again about drinks, but non-alcoholic one: milk! Non piangere sul latte versato (don’t cry over the spilled milk) is an expression which means that we don’t have to complain about what we did. What is done, is done, as we say in Italian (Quel che è fatto è fatto), and we can’t change the consequences of our actions, so better don’t complain and move forward!

This expression comes from older times, when milk was a quite expensive drink and once spilled, it would have been useless to get crazy.

“Non ho passato l’esame di matematica, adesso come farò? Dovrò studiare altri sei mesi per per quest’ esame… è terribile..e adesso come faccio??

Marco, è inutile piangere sul latte versato: mettiti a studiare e basta.”

“I haven’t passed the mathematics exam… what will I do now?? I must study other six months..that’s terrible, how will I make it??

Marco, don’t cry over the spilled milk: you must study harder and that’s all. “

The fifth and last expression is about onions and clothes. WHAT?? Oh yes, in Italian these two apparently far things go together: Vestirsi a cipolla (To dress like an onion) means to dress smartly. What does it mean? Well, for example, if we live in a place where in the morning is quite chilly, then during the day it gets quite warm and we must stay out all day, then we definitely need to vestirci a cipolla! Better to wear a short sleeves shirt and something warmer over it, then when it gets warmer we can avoid melting down under the sun because of too many, or too warm clothes:)

“Le previsioni dicono che domani sarà freddo al mattino ma caldo di pomeriggio… sarà meglio vestirsi a cipolla! “

“The forecasts say that tomorrow it will be cold in the morning but really warm in the afternoon… I think is better to dress properly not to be too hot or too cold!”

In conclusion, as you see there are so many expressions that are similar in different languages, and I believe this is really interesting and motivating to learn different languages.


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