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L'italiano e gli animali

In today’s edition of ‘Perché si dice così?’ we will take a closer look at the use of animals in sayings and proverbs in the Italian language.

Animals are not only part of our daily lives, but they have also become an essential element of the Italian language and culture. For this reason, we find many Italian proverbs and sayings having to do with our furry and feathered friends.

On a basic level, Italians often use animals to better identify diverse physical characteristics. A few examples of this include the following:

Alto come un giraffa – Tall as a giraffe

Noioso come una mosca – Annoying as a fly

Lento come una lumaca Slow as a snail

Sano come un pesce – Healthy as a fish

Curioso come una scimmia – Curious as a monkey

Ignorante come una capra – Ignorant/Stubborn as a goat

Solo come un cane – Lonely as a dog

When it comes to common sayings or proverbs, animals also come into play.

In bocca al lupo!...Crepi il lupo!

Arguably one of the most utilized Italian sayings, this exclamation and response literally means, “Into the mouth of the wolf” to which someone else responds, “May the wolf die!”. This is used when someone is about to enter dangerous or uncertain circumstances, such as a school exam. In fact, the origins of this exchange come from the world of hunting. Wishing that a hunter be in a dangerous situation, was actually a superstitious way of wishing them luck. This may be compared to the English, “Break a leg!”.

Fare lo struzzo

Literally translated, “To make like an ostrich”. This saying refers to the popular belief that an ostrich will bury its head when confronted with a dangerous situation. This phrase is used when referring to a person who ignores a difficult situation rather than dealing with it.

Andare a letto con le galline

Translated word for word, this frequently used saying means "To go to bed with the hens". Among farming communities, it is common knowledge that hens will go to sleep as soon as the sun sets, regardless of the season. For this reason, Italians will compare someone that goes to bed early with these animals.

It seems clear that many Italian animal sayings originate from either ancient fables or from the common knowledge of farmers. The latter, whose observations of the land and its inhabitants still resonate in the Italian language. These phrases bring us back to simpler times, with poignant reflections of life that can still be valid today.

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