Italians are very colorful people and their language reflects this. They have a variety of expressions to indicate life situations, moods, actions, etc. We can call these “ways to say”. In order to explain how Italians use these expressions, let's visualize a conversation between two friends. They are sitting in a café talking a lot because they haven't seen each other for years. Their names are Franco and Maria and they are both middle aged:
- Franco: Ciao, Maria! Allora, come andiamo? Non ci vediamo da un secolo!
- Maria: Ciao, Franco, che piacere incontrarti qui! Che mi racconti, vai ancora per rane?
- Franco: Ah, i bei tempi andati in cui andavo a zonzo per Roma con te. Adesso invece ho appeso il cappello al chiodo, sono un uomo di famiglia.
- Maria: Beato te! Il mio matrimonio è andato in fumo e il mio conto è in rosso. Non me la passo benissimo.
As you can see, in a very short conversation they still used eight “ways to say” which make little sense if you directly translate the sentences into English word for word. Here's the literal translation in English:
- Franco: Hello, Maria! How are we going? We have not seen each other for a century!
- Maria: Hi, Franco, it's a pleasure meeting you here! What can you tell me, are you still looking for frogs?
- Franco: Ah, the beautiful passed times in which I went at wander through Rome with you. Now I hung my hat to the nail, I am a family man.
- Maria: Blessed you! My wedding has gone to smoke and my account is in red. I am not passing it very well.
I am not a native English speaker, but I cannot understand much of what was being said above. That is why I'll explain to you “ways to say”:
- Come andiamo?: How are you?
- Non ci vediamo da un secolo!: We haven't seen each other for a long time.
- Vai ancora per rane?: Are you still an unsuccessful person?
- I bei tempi andati: The beautiful times I lived in and in which I was a happy person.
- Andavo a zonzo per Roma con te: You and me, all the day, went through Rome without a destination and without anything to do.
- Ho appeso il cappello al chiodo: I got married.
- Il mio matrimonio è andato in fumo: My wedding failed.
- Il mio conto è in rosso: My bank account is more empty than it should be. It's exactly like the English phrase “in the red”!
Consider another situation in which two students in their twenties are at university talking to each other in front of a cafe. Their names are Giorgio and Camilla:
- Giorgio: Che dici, pensi che troveremo mai lavoro?
- Camilla: Bah, qui è meglio che leviamo le tende e spicchiamo il volo.
- Giorgio: Già, stiamo colando a picco. Pensa che i miei non sbarcano nemmeno più il lunario.
- Camilla: Queste situazioni lasciano l’amaro in bocca; mi mandano letteralmente in bestia.
- Giorgio: Sto solo cercando di prendere la palla al balzo per trovare un lavoro il prima possibile. Mi sento davvero con la corda al collo.
- Camilla: L’importante è che tu abbia la faccia tosta di dimostrare quello che realmente vali e tutto andrà per il verso giusto.
This is a different situation because young people use more slang than older people. The literal translation of this conversation is even less understandable than the first dialogue:
- Giorgio: What do you say, do you think we'll ever find a job?
- Camilla: Bah, here it would be better to remove the tents and take off a flight path.
- Giorgio: Yes, we are sinking. Think that mines don't unload the almanac more.
- Camilla: Those situations let bitter in the mouth; they send me in beast.
- Giorgio: I am only trying to take the ball at leap to find a job the first possible. I really feel with the rope around the neck.
- Camilla: It is important that you have the hard face to demonstrate what you really be worth and everything will go to the right direction.
Here's the meaning of the “ways” you have just read above.
- Che dici: What do you think?
- E’ meglio che leviamo le tende: It's better for us to leave and go away from here.
- Spicchiamo il volo: We start something new which will give us fortune.
- Stiamo colando a picco: We are sinking.
- I miei: In het u it means ‘my parents’.
- I miei non sbarcano nemmeno più il lunario: My parents don't receive an adequate wage and they cannot pay for everything that normal life concerns.
- Lasciano l’amaro in bocca: Something that makes you feel sad but also disgusted, disappointed and a little bit angry.
- Mi mandano in bestia: They make me feel very angry.
- Prendere la palla al balzo: Take an occasion when it is showed to you.
- Mi sento con la corda al collo: I feel bad and blocked in a bad situation.
- Het u abbia la faccia tosta: You have to demonstrate your nature and who you really are with courage.
- Tutto andrà per il meglio: Everything will be ok.
Even in short conversations there are many “ways to say”. Can you imagine how many would present themselves in a long conversation or throughout the course of a whole day's conversations? Italians can't give up these expressions because they hold a strong meaning which is much more important than the literal translation. With a “way to say,” Italians express not just a concept but also a tradition--an Italian tradition. Every “way to say” conceals a story and a history about someone who inspired the concept and about the people who have used it.
“Ways to say” are one of the most important aspects of Italian culture because in a “way to say” you can find Italy.
Hero image by author.