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Modern Italian  Sayings Rooted in History

If there was any doubt about Italy’s enduring connection with its past, look no further than these historical sayings still used today in modern Italian:

If there was any doubt about Italy’s enduring connection with its past, look no further than these historical sayings still used today in modern Italian:


Fare le cose alla carlona (Literally: To do things as Charlemagne did)

This cheeky saying refers to Charlemagne aka Charles the Great, or ruler in the Early Middle Ages of post-Roman Western Europe. Depicted as clumsy and silly in the chivalric romance prose of the time, he loved to dress in outfits not befitting of his elevated status. For this reason, Florentine poet Luigi Pulci, portrayed Charlemagne as a senile old man in his fifteenth-century work entitled “Morgante”. Nowadays, the expression means to do things in a superficial way, with no attention to details or the context.

Tizio, Caio e Sempronio

These three names act more as a placeholder for hypothetical people rather than a phrase. Loosely translated, they are used much like “Tom, Dick and Harry” in English. First seen together by famed Roman law expert Irunerius in the twelfth-century, these names, common in Ancient Rome, continued to be used in legal documents until eventually entering into the modern day lexicon. Today, this saying is also shortened to just Tizio, which refers to “some guy” or Tizia, meaning “some woman”.    

Il segreto di Pulcinella (The Secret of Pulcinella)

This idiom originated in Napoli and is based on a seventeenth-century commedia dell’arte character. Described as potbelly and humpback, Pulcinella has a scheming nature and is often portrayed as an opportunist. So much so, that in these plays he is often shown making fun of high society and exposing their secrets to the audience. When used in conversation, this remark signifies an attempt to keep something a secret that is very obviously already known to everyone. This may be seen likewise to the “The cat is out of the bag”, in English.  

Questo è un altro paio di maniche! (Literally: This is another pair of sleeves!)

During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, men and especially women would replace and wear different types of sleeves according to the activities they were doing. If they were staying home, they would use more modest fabrics. However, for an outing or a celebration, the sleeves would become more elegant and precious. The expression is now used in a conversation to signal that the other person is digressing from the original topic.


As you can imagine, this is just a small sampling of the many historical Italian sayings still in use today. While some sayings have kept their original connotations from the past, others have evolved more for modern usage. However, the power and meaning of these expressions are firmly rooted and continue to be passed down from generation to generation.


Fare le cose alla carlona – To do things as Charlemagne did.

This cheeky saying refers to Charlemagne aka Charles the Great, or ruler in the Early Middle Ages of post-Roman Western Europe. Depicted as clumsy and silly in the chivalric romance prose of the time, he loved to dress in outfits not befitting of his elevated status. For this reason, Florentine poet Luigi Pulci, portrayed Charlemagne as a senile old man in his fifteenth-century work entitled “Morgante”


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