Italian Idioms starting with I

Idioms are a key aspect in language learning, often connected to the history and culture of a nation. Here some idioms beginning with I- are translated and explained.

Idioms Ordered Alphabetically

[ A ] [ B ] [ C ] [ D ] [ E ] [ F ] [ G ] [ I ] [ L ] [ M ] [ N ] [ O ] [ P ] [ Q ] [ R ] [ S ] [ T ] [ U ] [ V ] [ Z ]

Idem con patate (= same as above, with potatoes)

Still used to mean "the same as mentioned earlier, just adding potatoes" with an ironic sense, stressing the ordinariness of the repetitive event. It might be a corruption of the people, mocking, of the Latin phrase "Idem comparate ad..." (=the same as above, applied to...).

Il gioco non vale la candela (= The game isn't worth the candle)

This expression is of medieval origin. In those days it was necessary to use candles or oil lamps for any nocturnal activity and the cost of the candles, especially for the lower classes, could become a considerable expense. It was then customary for card players to leave a small amount (or sometimes a real candle) to the owner of the house that hosted them or the innkeeper. The saying spread rapidly among gamblers to indicate games where they had lost a lot of money, or where the winnings were so low as not to cover even the small expense left for the candle.

Il tempo che Berta filava (= when Berta used to spin)

That indicates an age not only remote but also gone by now. There are two main historical sources:
1) the troubadeur Adenet le Roi, who lived around 1275, wrote a novel whose protagonist, the wife of Pepin the Short and Charlemagne's mother, "big-footed Berta " (it seems she had a foot longer than the other). During the journey to meet her future groom, the princess was mischievously replaced with the daughter of her companion, but managed to escape from her kidnappers and found refuge in a woodcutter's home, where she spent years working as a spinner. When the substitution was exposed, Berta could take her rightful place on the throne.
2) Tradition has it that once lived a widow named Berta, very poor but very devoted to her king. One day she wanted to spin a thin wool and give it to the king, who, learning about the woman's miserable condition, covered her with money and guaranteed her a comfortable future. When the generous gesture became known, many subjects were quick to donate yarns to the king, but the king said to all: "These are no more the times when Bertha was spinning."

In bocca al lupo (= in the wolf's mouth)

The expression has a superstitious value: to avoid the possibility of an unwanted event, it is expressed in the form of wish (as "Break a leg"). It is very bad luck to wish "Buona Fortuna" to anyone, for example, having an exam, or an interview for a job. He who receives the greeting must answer "Crepi!" (=May the wolf die). Although the origin of this expression is not clear, as other similar expressions that feature a wolf, it would seem linked to the image of the wolf in the folk tradition as the personification of evil, a wild animal that was feared among the inhabitants of the countryside and mountain areas, especially among shepherds and hunters, in the whole of Europe in the past, becoming the protagonist of many negative stories and legends passed down through the ages.

Indorare la pillola (= gild the pill)

This phrase means to present something that can be unpleasant or damaging with an artifice that makes it look better. The saying comes from an old practice of pharmacists, who once covered their bitter pills with a thin gold or silver leaf, which allowed swallowing without feeling the bad taste.