Idioms are one of the funniest yet hardest things to learn in a foreign language.
You can be a very fluent speaker but if in the middle of a conversation someone tells you sei lungo come la Quaresima (you are long as Lent) or that it is time to tagliare la testa al toro (to cut the bull’s head), you may end up with a puzzled look on your face.
Actually, learning common idioms is not so difficult. There are a lot of idioms in the Italian language, but with time and patience (and lots of fun on the way), you can learn a good number of them. On the Internet, you’ll find a lot of learning materials about idioms and you will also find some posts in my blog – plus my 100 Days of Italian Idioms project as well.
Since idioms always have quite a strange or weird literal meaning, I have the feeling that it is easier to remember them, because you immediately make an association in your mind. I think that if someone tells you sei una testa di rapa (you are a turnip’s head) and then explains to you both the literal and the real meaning, it is quite easy for you not to forget about it.
But there are other idioms which are more difficult to grasp or to understand. What if, while discussing over a certain decision, you propose a solution and I tell you: “L’accendiamo?” (Do we switch it on?). Or what if I tell you that someone “mi ha fatto la supercazzola“: would you understand what I mean?
It doesn’t matter how well you speak Italian, you need to have a very deep knowledge of Italian pop culture to understand – and then use – this type of phrases. As a matter of fact, they come from either TV shows or movies and they are some kind of an inside joke among Italians, which makes things a bit more difficult for you.
This is why I decided to write a post about them – like I did for the idioms that come from TV commercials. This time I chose 10 idioms or phrases that first appeared in some very famous TV shows or movies and that are now part of the Italian language. I hope it will be a good way for you to learn a few more Italian sentences – or just a way to have fun discovering a bit of Italian pop culture.
Shall we dive deeper into popular Italian idioms that come from TV and movies? Let’s go!
This phrase comes from a quiz show called Chi vuol essere milionario, where the host asked such question to the competitor to make sure that he or she was convinced with the answer he or she gave to a certain question. The show was so popular that this phrase is now part of the Italian language and we use it in the exact same way. If you want to take a look at the show, which was hosted by Gerry Scotti, a very famous Italian TV presenter, here is an episode.
2. Organizzazione Filini
This idiom comes from a series of movies by Paolo Villaggio, a comedian who invented the character of Fantozzi, a clerk who is incredibly unlucky. The saga of Fantozzi is a cult in Italian pop culture and the Italian language has now endless references to these movies and its characters. Organizzazione Filini refers to something that is very badly organized and takes its name from Ragionier Filini, who in Fantozzi’s movies organized all sorts of events, usually ending in tragicomic situations. Here’s a video of a terrible New Year’s Eve party organized by Filini.
3. Continuiamo così, facciamoci del male!
Here’s another phrase taken from a popular 80s movie. The movie is Bianca by Nanni Moretti, a movie director who, like Paolo Villaggio, is responsible for many idioms in the Italian language. This one, which means ‘let’s go on like this, let’s keep doing harm to ourselves’, is the phrase Nanni Moretti says when someone tells him that he has never tried Sacher Torte in his life. Such phrase is now commonly used in the Italian language when someone tells you he or she does something you think is wrong or you can’t believe.
Striscia la notizia is one of the oldest TV shows still on-air on Italian TV. When it started, back in 1989, it was intended as a satirical news show but it has now turned into something quite vulgar and sensationalist. However, the adjective attapirato (past participle of attapirare) has become part of the Italian vocabulary and it refers to someone who is embittered after making a mistake or doing something wrong. It comes from the habit of the TV show of gifting a popular figure who made a mistake with a Tapiro d’Oro (golden tapir).
5. Fare la supercazzola
This phrase refers to the habit of making up words that have no meaning and placing them together in a sentence, making it seem very formal and intellectual. It is commonly used to refer to someone who has told you something apparently polished but with no meaning at all. This idiom comes from the movie Amici Miei, where one of the main characters, played by Ugo Tognazzi, used this method to distract people in difficult situations. In this video, you can see some of his most famous supercazzole.
6. E io pago!
This is a common phrase that we Italians – and Italian parents in particular – use in a very humorous way. It means “it’s me who always pays” and it is used to underline the fact that it is always the speaker who pays while the others have fun. It comes from a movie by Totò, the great Neapolitan comedian, where he interpreted Baron Antonio Peletti, who was very stingy and was used to repeating this phrase over and over again in all kinds of situations.
7. La seconda che hai detto
This phrase means “the second one you said” and it comes from a character invented by the comedian Paolo Guzzanti. The name of the character is Quelo, a new age guru who tells all kinds of absurd and stupid things. La seconda che hai detto was the answer he gave to questions he didn’t know how to address and we use it nowadays in the exact meaning. Here’s a longer video of Quelo, in case you are interested in his beliefs and teachings.
This is something we say when we do something and get a perfect result or when we show someone something that turned out very well. This expression comes from Il ragazzo di campagna, a cult movie by Renato Pozzetto, that tells the story of a simple farmer who moves to Milan, the big city, where all sorts of fun adventures happen to him. Taaaac is used a lot in this scene, where he sets the table in his super modern apartment in the city.
9. Fare come Tafazzi
One of the most popular Italian TV shows in the 90s was Mai dire gol (Never say goal), which was on-air on Sunday night and used to mock soccer events and matches. A number of comedians appeared on the show and one of them was Giacomo Poretti, who played Tafazzi, a weird-looking and absurd character who did nothing but beat his balls with a bottle of water. We now say fare come Tafazzi referred to someone who is a masochist and causes harm to himself on purpose.
10. Quanti siete? Un fiorino!
This last phrase comes from one of the most famous Italian movies, played by Roberto Benigni and Massimo Troisi. The movie is Non ci resta che piangere and tells the story of two guys who suddenly find themselves back in Medieval times. Needless to say, a lot of fun things happen: this phrase comes from a scene where the guys are asked un fiorino (a florin) to pass customs. This is just something we say as a joke or when someone is asking too many questions at the same time.
Did you know some of these phrases? And what about the movies mentioned? Have you watched some of them? Let me know!
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