Know the Italian idiomatic expressions.
If you really want to demonstrate that you’ve been doing your Italian language and culture lessons, then start boning up on these often-used expressions. In this post, I share with you how a rare occurrence is expressed. Of course, you can say something happens rarely (raremente) or infrequently (non frequentemente) but that’s just plain bland, don’t you think? And Italians always choose the colorful route. Bravi!
English speakers use “Once in a Blue Moon”
But don’t try doing a literal word-for-word translation without an Italian looking at you cross-eyed. Yes, a blue moon (a second full moon in a single month) recurs infrequently (every two-to-three years)—a somewhat rare occurrence. Still, I think Italians do even better and take it up a notch.
Italians say, “Ogni morte di papa” or “Every death of a pope” to express a rare occurrence.
This Italian idiomatic expression derived from the relatively infrequent occurrence of a pope being elected, serving, and then passing away. This is much more of a rarity than a blue moon. Wikipedia calls it “hyperbole.”
Let’s put it to use in the following example. Let’s say Maria, who is notorious for arriving late to every function (and not by just a few “Italian” minutes), arrives at your party right on time. Your friend Luigi remarks, “Maria è arrivata in orario!” (Maria arrived on time). You reply sarcastically, “Sì, in orario ogni morte di papa.” (Yeah, on time every death of a pope.)
This is just one of many examples (more posts coming) of how Italians have created colorful and sometimes surprising expressions that truly reflect the Italian culture. Early in my life here in Italy, I tried using translating English idiomatic expressions into Italian only to be met with confused or bemused expressions. This is where I remind people coming to Italy, especially English speakers, that the world doesn’t fall at the feet of the English language.
You’ll score points with Italians by putting such expressions into use.
I’m employing a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor by saying it’s a rare occurrence when people learning Italian take the trouble to commit a solid number of Italian idiomatic expressions to memory—then, to use them! Yes, there a fair number of ex-pats who tackle speaking and writing Italian with vigor, but I’m afraid there are a large number of people who don’t. Italians are proud of their language and culture, and new inhabitants of Italy are expected to show proper respect by having a solid command of Italian. I’m married to an Italian. Believe me, I know.
Check out three other Italian idiomatic expressions!
I encourage you to read my post about three essential Italian phrases. I’ve included a video, too, from my YouTube channel.