With my Venetian protagonists, one of my tricks is to use Italian expressions literally translated into English, so that it makes sense, but hovers in the outlying region of sense ... that debatable land where you often find the poetry.
Below are some examples of the kind of expression that I like to use to show that my English-speaking Italian characters are not at all English.
The expressions are shown in the original Italian and then in literal English translation, with an explanation of the actual meaning or the English equivalent expression underneath. The middle line is the one my characters use.
Sono contento/a come una Pasqua.
I am happy as an Easter.
I’m happy as can be.
Dormo tra due guanciali.
I sleep between two pillows.
I’ve got no worries.
Ho un culo bestiale!
I’ve got a beastly ass!
I’m a lucky guy!
Sono andato/a in brodo di giuggiole.
I went into the Jujube soup.
I went into raptures.
Mi sono mangiato il fegato.
I ate my own liver.
I kicked myself.
Fa venire il latte alle ginocchia.
He'll makes milk come out of your knee.
He’s a real bore.
Spirito di patata.
The spirit of a potato.
No sense of humour.
Vende solo fumo..
He’s/She’s only selling smoke.
He’s/She’s talking big.
Sono incavolato/a …
I have thrown myself in the cabbages …
I’ve really lost it …
Io me ne faccio un baffo!
I don’t do a whisker!
I don’t give a damn!
Sei un bugiardo della Madonna.
You could lie for the Madonna.
You are one hell of a liar.
Don’t do the salami!
Don’t act like an idiot!
Non ha sale in zucca.
He doesn’t have salt in the pumpkin.
He’s not very intelligent.
Sei uno scarpone.
You are a big shoe.
You are a dead loss.
Ti salta subito la mosca al naso.
The fly really jumps out of your nose
You have a quick temper.
Fai di ogni mosca un elefante.
You make an elephant out of every fly.
Your make mountains out of molehills.
Ho una bella cotta per quella ragazza.
I have a beautiful cooked thing for that girl.
I have a crush on that girl.
Ho una scuffia per lui.
I’ve capsized over him
I’ve really fallen for him.
Lui mi fa sangue.
He makes blood in me.
He turns me on.
Voglio fare l’amore in tutte le salse.
I want to make love in all the sauces.
I want to make love every which way.
Sei come il cacio sui maccheroni.
You are the cheese on the macaroni.
You are the cat’s whiskers.
Faceva la santarellina
She did the little saint.
Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.
Mi mordo le mani.
I bite my own hands.
I’m really sorry.
Non so più a che santo votarmi.
I don’t know which saint to pray to.
I don’t know which way to turn.
Ha mangiato la foglia.
He has eaten the leaf.
He’s onto us.
Lui mi ha preso in castagna.
He’s got me in the chestnut.
He caught me in the act.
Vado a lume di naso.
I am going by the light of my nose.
I’m hanging on by the seat of my pants
Doveva essere un spettacolo bello,ma eravano solo quattro gatti.
It was supposed to be a great show,
but there were only four cats there.
It was supposed to be great show. but only a few people showed up
Mi sono cacciato in un ginepraio.
I have thrown myself in a juniper bush.
I’m really in a fix.
E costato troppo poco; deve essere farina del diavolo.
It cost too little. It must be the flour of the devil.
It didn’t cost enough: it must be stolen goods.
Sono rimasto con un pugno di mosche.
I was left with a blow-fly’s punch in the nose.
I was left empty-handed.
The images on this blog come from spreads I designed with Lisa Pentreath and Ornella Tarantola as a book proposal. We thought that visual aids would help settle the expressions into the brain. We all got too busy doing other things, which was a shame.
Here were the alternative covers
I am sure other History Girls and visitors to this site have similar useful expressions from other languages they speak and write. Do share!
Michelle Lovric's website