Proverbs and sayings have always been part of the Italian linguistic culture, and are used by the overwhelming majority of the population even during everyday conversations.
Proverbs are much more used by the elderly, with almost total absence in the language used by the younger generations, who make instead large use idioms.
Some of these are true expressions, untranslatable in other languages and used to reinforce a concept, to define an image or a situation and to create analogies that favor the understanding of the phrase that is about to be said.
The most famous italian proverbs
Proverbs, maxims which are the fruit of common experience, are based on what is commonly considered to be “true”, or presumably so. Among the most beautiful Italian proverbs of all time we remember some in particular, such as:
- Running away “a gambe levate “(hot foot) (quickly, without thinking too much);
- A carnevale ogni scherzo vale: (At carnival every joke is allowed) used to justify carnival pranks
- A mali estremi, estremi rimedi: (Desperate times call for desperate measures) proverb that wants to underline how, in adverse conditions, it is necessary to resort to “extreme” remedies without thinking twice
- Aprile dolce dormire: (April sweet sleeping) proverb that describes the typical sensation of drowsiness at spring time
- Chi si loda, si imbroda: (those who brag, get dirty) proverb used to remind us that those who tend to praise themselves too much end up “getting dirty”, falling.
The most famous Italian sayings
Idioms differ from proverbs (the so-called “maxims”) because they have nothing to do with popular wisdom. Proverbs, in fact, are almost always linked to an experience, which is why they are often used mostly by older people. Idioms on the other hand rely on phrases or other elements of the conversation to create analogies. Some examples?
- When we say: mi raccomando, ”acqua in bocca” (remember, “mum’s the word”) (keep a secret);
- mandare in fumo (send it up in smoke)(destroy something, a project or an idea);
- to have “poco sale in zucca”(little salt in your brain) (to have no common sense, or better, to not be very astute);
- “cascare dal pero”(fall from the pear tree) (take note of something that you had no idea about, but that was actually quite obvious).
Idioms in dialect: regional proverbs
Obviously, since Italy is an extremely diverse country from a linguistic point of view, at a regional and provincial level (since every region tends to have one or more of its own dialects) it is easy to come across proverbs and dialectal meanings, used only in some areas. Among the most famous Italian proverbs and sayings in dialect, we certainly find those linked to the Neapolitan and Sicilian regions. Among the Neapolitan sayings we should mention: “A cicala canta, canta e po’ schiatta” (or “the cicada sings, sings and then dies”); proverb used to emphasize the importance of living without too many worries and without caring about the judgment of others. Among the most famous proverbs of Sicilian culture, however, there is the famous: “l’omu gilusu mori curnutu” (or “the jealous man dies betrayed”); the proverb wants to indicate how often, being too attached to things or people, ends up going wrong.