Five Italian Expressions You Should Know

Italy is a Mediterranean country with a very rich historical and linguistic background. The “boot”, which is how Italians often refer to it based on its shape, is one of the most popular destinations for tourists from all around the world. Whether you have been there or not, we thought we would boost your Italian skills today with a blog post about five Italian expressions you should know. We guarantee that using these will make a real impression on native speakers… you can thank us later! 🙂


Conosco i miei polli

Sometimes you know a person so well that you can almost anticipate all of their next moves, especially cheeky ones. If that’s the case, here you have an expression just for that! This phrase, which literally means “I know my chickens”, is very common in Italian and you would use it when you know someone is trying to be smart but nonetheless you can foresee what they will do next.

It seems Italians owe this expression to Saint Francis, who was a great lover of animals and nature, with which he had a harmonious relationship. Once he was arguing with a peasant about what to feed to some chickens and, since the peasant would not have it, Saint Francis said “Conosco i miei polli”… and the rest is history!


Avere gatte da pelare

Problems, problems, problems… and then more problems! Have you ever felt like you could not dig your way out and yet some other obstacle comes your way? When you have just had enough and you cannot believe you have to face another one, that’s when you would say “Ho già le mie gatte da pelare” (I already have my cats to skin). Animal lovers, don’t fret: the expression has a softer meaning than it seems, as it refers to shaving rather than skinning our lovely furry friends.

As you might know, cats do not like to be shaved and tend to protest if they are. That’s why “cats to skin” has come to symbolise problems in Italian. Funnily enough, the word for cat/cats is in its feminine form… female cats must be the ones to protest harder!


Ogni morte di papa

Some events are rare, like snow in Sicily, and some others are even more rare… like the death of a pope! For such events, Italians use the expression “ogni morte di papa”, which literally means “every time a pope dies”. It is particularly used with a somewhat sarcastic tone, when you would expect something to happen more often and instead it turns out it never does.

Other than being very useful for those times when you need to complain about a friend never calling to keep in touch, this expression is also extremely interesting from a cultural point of view. For the place where Catholicism developed and settled, having a phrase that refers directly to the pope is not unusual at all!


Nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono

And now one for all short people out there. Have you ever felt underestimated because of your height? Then this one is for you! Whether people are not taking you seriously or are simply pulling your leg because you are shorter than them, you can hit back and say: “Nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono” (In small barrels there is good wine).

Wine lovers will understand this immediately, but let us explain in case you are more of a beer kind of person. Wine preserves better in small barrels, as the contained environment allows for a better ageing process. Equally, you can claim that short people present better contents! 😉


L’amore non è bello se non è litigarello

And that brings us to the last Italian expression you should definitely know, especially now that Valentine’s Day is behind us. Bickering with our loved ones is frequent for some, and sometimes tiring, but according to this saying there is nothing to worry about! “L’amore non è bello se non è litigarello” literally means that love is not beautiful unless it is quarrelsome.

It is okay to argue sometimes, as dialogue and discussions allow us to understand the other person’s point of view… just do not take it too literally – and remember to make peace. 🙂


Now, these expressions will ensure you blend with the locals on your upcoming trip to Italy – hopefully we have persuaded you to visit this amazing country! – but it is important that they are used appropriately. In translation, idiomatic phrases like these are often misinterpreted and literally conveyed into another language, which of course reveals poor judgement. If you want to be sure of avoiding such blunders, refer to the experts! At Creative, we work with mother tongue translators and writers, who are well-versed in such idiomatic language, so if you are in need of professional translation and transcreation services, give us a call on +44 (0)207 294 7710 or send us an email to and we will be happy to help!


Photo Credit: peeterv via iStock