One of the most complicated things about learning (or teaching) another language are idiomatic phrases. As I was finishing up one of my lessons on idioms I asked students to share with me some Italian idioms and explain their meanings. They were really excited to have the opportunity to finally teach me something…in English of course. It came as no surprise that many of the phrases contained references to food and eating and there were many that I couldn’t understand based on their literal translations. After my lesson I started thinking about idioms in the English language related to food and those related to Italian. Even though we have some similar idiomatic expressions, it’s interesting to see which foods the languages use. We can learn a lot about the role that food plays in different cultures through some of these phrases. In English something is a piece of cake, but in Italian it’s easy like drinking a glass of water (facile come bere un bicchere di acqua). In English and Italian people can be bad apples (mele marcie) and neither of us cry over spilt milk (e’ inutile piangere sul latte versato). In English we go nuts or bananas but in Italian they are out of their melon (fuori di melone). In America can be as slow as molasses, we bring home the bacon, quit things cold turkey and sometimes spill the beans. Italians don’t do any of these things, but they have just as many food related sayings. I might have bitten off more than I could chew when my students challenged me to decipher some of their Italian idioms. Here are a few of them related to food. Let’s see if you can figure some of these out.
Buono come il pane – As good as bread
E’ andato tutto liscio come l’olio – It went as smooth as oil
C’entra come il cavolo a merinda – It’s like a cabbage for snack
Non c’e’ trippa per gatti – There’s no tripe for cats
Avere il prosciutto sugli occhi – To have prosciutto (ham) over your eyes
La minestra riscaldata non e’ mai buona – Reheated soup is never good
In ginocchio sui ceci – To be on your knees on chickpeas
La gallina vecchia fa buon brodo – Old hens make good broth
I want to leave you with a few of my favorite Italian proverbs: water hurts and wine makes you sing (l’acqua fa male e il vino fa cantare), hunger makes the best cook (la fame e’ il mglior cuoco che ci sia), appetite comes with eating (l’appetito viene mangiando) and we will never grow old at the table (non si invecchia mai a torno alla tavola). Just a little food for thought.
Tell me your favorite edible idiom….