Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In The Mouth of The Wolf and Other Phrases

Do dogs really have such a bad life?

After reaching the point where you can claim to be fluent in a foreign language you can fully appreciate some of the particularities of the language that you've acquired. One of my favourite things about the Italian language are the phrases which involve various animals.

In bocca al lupo - literally this translates to 'in the mouth of the wolf'. This is the phrase that you would use when wishing someone good luck, such as for an exam. The correct response to this isn't grazie as you would imagine, but crepi, or the full phrase of crepi il lupo. Crepi, for grammar nerds, when used in this phrase is the imperative third person singular of the verb crepare, which means 'to die' (in modern Italian the verb crepare is only used in colloquial speech, morire is the more acceptable alternative). So basically, by saying crepi you want the wolf to die, so you can escape from his mouth! A more vulgar version of the same phrase is in culo alla balena, which translates to 'in the arse of the whale'.

Quattro gatti. For some reason, a small amount of people can be expressed as a specific number of cats -or gatti - namely four. Working in an office in Italy in August? More than likely you'll be one of the four cats who aren't on holiday.

Solo come un cane - lonely as a dog. For some reason or other in Italy man's best friend is lonely. Dogs are also related to other negative images, for example if you're heartbroken after the end of a relationship you could say that you are 'suffering like a dog', sto soffrendo come un cane. And one way of expressing that it's absolutely freezing is to say fa un freddo cane - it's a dog cold!

Conosco i miei polli - Literally 'I know my chickens'. It's the image of a farmer or a breeder knowing their animals and what their behaviour's like. It's a way of saying that you know what somebody, a friend, colleague, family member etc, is like and how they normally behave in certain situations. Somebody asks you if your lazy housemates will do the cleaning whilst you're away on holiday? Oh no no, you know your chickens...


Natalie said...

Love these! I've never heard "conosco i miei polli"

Nerys said...

Hi Natalie! It's used less than the others, or at least here in Milan.

Canedolia said...

I love "in bocca al lupo" but I never knew there was a correct response as well, so thanks for sharing!

In French, it gets duck-cold (il fait un froid de canard) - I'm not sure which is stranger!

Nerys said...

Duck-cold! That's brilliant!

Rake said...

I must say I brok into laugher when I read your post. I'm not used to find those phrases in written form and found your explanations very funny, and correct of course.
You're ready to apply for citizenship.

I'll teach you one but I won't translate it "sei un gatto attaccato ai maroni".
Have fun to find out the meaning, but don't say that to any Italian: it's not properly a compliment.

Nerys said...

Ciao Rake! I've come across that gatto phrase quite a few times in the past ;)