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Italians have spoken a lot about love, life, time, and other wisdom. This is reflected in their proverbs which are titbits of wisdom about everything the Italians are best known for. Many Latin sayings of the past have also become a part of the Italian heritage.
Here are some Italian proverbs that are deeply rooted in culture, and provide an insight into life in Italy. Let’s take a look at some of the best-known and profound Italian proverbs.
Finché c’è vita, c’è speranza – As long as there is life there is hope.
This Italian proverb reminds us to always be optimistic even when there seems to be no hope left. Always keep trying until you reach your goal even in the most desperate and difficult situations. This is a proverb that originated from Cicero’s quote more than 2000 years ago.
Meglio tardi che mai – Better late than never.
The Italians like all other cultures have this saying which means that when an opportunity arises, rather than missing it altogether it is better to start a bit late. This also implies that if you have realized that you have a bad habit, it is better to try to change it late than never change it at all and suffer the consequences.
Ride bene chi ride ultimo – Who laughs last, laughs best.
The Italians warn to never celebrate in advance before everything is over as you never know until the last moment how something will turn out.
Piove sempre sul bagnato – It always rains on the wet.
While the closest translation of this proverb is similar to the English one ‘when it rains, it pours’ which means that those with bad luck will continue to be unlucky, the Italian version actually has a positive meaning. For the Italians, those with good fortune will continue to have it.
A caval donato non si guarda in bocca – You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
This Italian proverb comes from the time when horse traders used the practice of examining a horse’s teeth to determine whether it was healthy or not. What the proverb implies is to never criticize a gift given to you. At the end of the day, just receive the good intentions of the person giving you the gift.
Meglio solo che male accompagnato – Better alone than in bad company.
While it is important to have companions, it is more important that you choose the people you spend time on wisely. As it is better to be alone rather than in the company of those who do not wish the best for you or with unworthy people.
Occhio non vede, cuore non duole – The eye doesn’t see, the heart does not hurt.
A word of wisdom from the Italians is that what stays out of your sight will not make you suffer. Only seeing it will remind you of your suffering. So, it is better to not see things you do not want to know about.
Fidarsi è bene ma non fidarsi è meglio – Trusting is good, but not trusting is better.
The Italians advise that while trust is an important part of life and any relationship, it is always good to always have your guard up and be cautious when deciding who deserves your trust. Don’t easily give away your trust to anyone.
Il buongiorno si vede dal mattino – A good day starts in the morning.
This proverb can be interpreted in various ways. The first one is that an early start to the day as well as a great morning can make the rest of the day a positive one. It is showing the importance of a good start as it will foreshadow the rest. Another meaning is that a good childhood can prep a person up for success, a good beginning with good planning will ensure a good end.
Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca – The morning has gold in its mouth.
The Italians are early risers as they have several proverbs that show how crucial an early morning start to the day is. Early risers can make the most of their day as it gives the day the right start it needs.
Ambasciator non porta pena – Don’t shoot the messenger.
Always remember that those who deliver bad news are not the ones responsible for it and shouldn’t be condemned or punished for just the act of delivering the bad news to you. This is also a practice during war times when the messenger or ambassador of the enemy’s army is not shot when they come to relay any messages.
Far d’una mosca un elefante – To make an elephant out of a fly.
This is the Italian way of saying ‘make a mountain out of a molehill’. This proverb is about exaggerating the situation when it is insignificant and small and need not be made a huge deal out of.
La gatta frettolosa ha fatto i figli/gattini ciechi – The cat in a hurry gave birth to blind kittens.
The Italians can never emphasize enough the importance of patience. The Italian culture itself is all about taking your time on anything and everything. You need not be a perfectionist but rushing things will only end up in imperfect results.
Le bugie hanno le gambe corte – Lies have short legs.
What the Italians imply with this proverb is that lies can never last long or go a long way because of their short legs. So, in the end the truth will always come out and you can save yourselves by telling the truth from the get-go.
Can che abbaia non morde – The dog that barks doesn’t bite.
This means that not every person who makes threats follows through with it. And those who only threaten and don’t actually act are nothing to be afraid of.
Ogni lasciata è persa – Everything left is lost.
This is a reminder to always seize the opportunities that you are blessed with. Once they arise and you don’t seize it, you will miss it forever. A missed opportunity is lost forever. So don’t postpone or procrastinate, take it up as they come along.
Il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio – The wolf loses its fur but not its bad habits.
This Italian proverb is taken from Latin and actually referred to the ruthless tyrant, Emperor Vespasiano, who was known to be greedy. The proverb means that it is very hard to get rid of old habits and even if people may change their appearances or behaviors, their true nature will always remain the same.
Chi nasce tondo non può morir quadrato – Those who are born round, can’t die square.
Another way of saying that it is almost impossible and complicated to change or eradicate bad habits once they have been acquired. So be careful to not be enticed into them.
Mal comune mezzo gaudio – Shared trouble, shared joy.
The Italians believe that opening up about your troubles with your close ones will make the problems you are facing less dauting and you will no longer be overwhelmed by them. It will ensure that a load is taken off your shoulders.
Amor senza baruffa fa la muffa – Love with no quarrel gets mold.
This proverb shows the passionate way to love of the Italians. They advise that to keep things interesting and spicy in any relationship, an argument or two is necessary. Only love with a few disagreements and quarrels is beautiful.
Non si può avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca – You can’t have a barrel full of wine and a drunk wife at the same time.
You cannot have everything you want at once. This proverb is a reminder that to get something, you need to give up something else. This is also based on the economic principle of ‘opportunity cost’. When making decisions, always remember the thing you give up is the cost you incur for what you are going to do.
L’ospite è come il pesce dopo tre giorni puzza – A guest is like a fish that, after three days, stinks.
This is a funny Italian proverb about guests, especially uninvited ones. It is also a reminder to people to never outstay their welcome at someone else’s house no matter how close they are to us.
L’erba del vicino è sempre piu verde – The grass is always greener on the neighbor’s side.
This Italian proverb warns us of jealousy. While we may not appreciate what we have, we are always envious of what everyone else around us have. It is important to not only focus on your neighbor but on yourself first. Only then can you become the best version of yourself that you are proud of.
Chi ha tempo non aspetti tempo – Who has time, shouldn’t wait for time.
This proverb is for the procrastinators who keep of doing something for later even when they have the time to do it right away. It is a reminder to do the things that can be done today without putting it off to tomorrow.
L’ozio é il padre di tutti i vizi – Idleness is the father of all vices.
This is a warning that laziness will never get us anywhere, it is similar to the saying ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop’. This means that those who have nothing to do will always come up with devious ways to waste time.
Chi dorme non piglia pesci – Who sleeps does not catch fish.
This is based on the logic that fishermen must wake up early and head to the sea to be able to catch fish for their livelihood. But if they refuse to do so, they will have to return home empty-handed. Hence, it showcases the significance of hard work and reminds us that lazy people will never attain any results.
La notte porta consiglio – Night brings advice.
This is similar to the saying ‘sleep on it’. Sometimes when you are stuck with an issue and unable to find a solution or have an important decision to make, it is best to leave it as it is for the night. Rest up and think again in the morning with a fresh mind.
O mangiar questa minestra o saltar questa finestra – Either eat this soup or jump out of this window.
An Italian variation to the ‘take it or leave it’ policy. It showcases the importance of being happy with what you have and accepting situations that can’t be changed in order to be happy and avoid some unfortunate results.
De gustibus non disputandum es – Tastes differ.
This Italian proverb, which survives from a Latin saying, means that there are all sorts of people in this world, and not everyone has the same tastes when it comes to different things. It is always advisable to be respectful to other’s inclinations as well as feelings.
Paese che vai usanze che trovi – Every country you visit has different customs.
A practical snippet of advice is to remember that not every person in the world is like us. The world is made up of people with different cultures, languages, and customs. So, never expect others to have the same thoughts as you and learn to be sensitive and tolerant towards others.
While some of these proverbs have equivalents in other cultures, some proverbs are unique to the Italian culture. But the lessons that all of them teach are important for everyone to imbibe in their everyday life.