At this time of year, there are so many wonderful fruit and vegetables available throughout Italy. Figs, mushrooms, truffles, grapes, pumpkins and chestnuts – to name just a few!. With an abundance of seasonal fruit and veg and a national love for food, it’s not surprising that there are many proverbs and idiomatic expressions involving fruit and vegetables.
‘Una mela al giorno leva il medico di torno’ is the same as the English expression: an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Some other expressions don’t translate directly into English but are worth learning to add some colour and fluency to your Italian language.
Essere come il prezzemolo
Literal translation: To be like parsley
Real meaning: To pop up everywhere, or be in the way
Background: Parsley is used in a lot of Italian dishes, so if you’re like parsley you show up in many places and situations
Example: Roberto è come il prezzemolo, lo trovi dappertutto – Roberto is like parsley, you find him everywhere
Non avere sale in zucca
Literal translation: To not have salt in the pumpkin
Real meaning: To not be very bright
Background: The word pumpkin can be used to refer to head, and in this case the salt relates to wisdom or intelligence
Example: Raffaele è simpatico ma ha poco sale in zucca – Raffaele is nice but not particularly bright
Essere una patata
Literal translation: To be a potato
Real meaning: To be awkward or clumsy
Example: Che patata che sei! – How clumsy you are!
Essere alla frutta
Literal translation: To be at the fruit
Real meaning: To have reached rock bottom, to be at the end of the road, to be at one’s limit
Background: In the same way many Italian meals end with some fruit, this expression relates to reaching the end of something. It generally refers to a bad or difficult situation with no way out.
Example: Hai sentito le notizie di politica oggi? Ma siamo alla fruitta! – Have you heard the latest news in politics today? We’ve really reached rock bottom!
Non fare un cavolo
Literal translation: To not do a cabbage
Real meaning: To not to a single thing
Example: Maria non ha fatto un cavolo tutto il giorno – Maria didn’t do a damn thing all day
La minestra riscaldata
Literal translation: Warmed up vegetable broth
Real meaning: What happens when you try to revive an old relationship, it’s never the same. It can refer to a romantic, platonic or business relationship.
Example: Ho incontrato il mio ex ieri, minestra riscaldata – I met up with my ex yesterday, it was the same old story