Mom making biscotti
Mom making biscotti


In yesterday’s entry, I was discussing some of the quaint English figures of speech that one can incorporate into every day conversation as a means of sounding a little more native. A 19th century upper-class native, but native nevertheless. I say – corking kippers, wot?

Growing up in an Italian household, I was privy to my share of quaint Italian turns of phrase, unique little Italianisms that I’d like to offer to anyone looking to make an instant impression (and, in many cases, give instant offense) while either traveling abroad or visiting those Italian in-laws.

La testa tua è…: Translates to “Your head is…” and is a favorite of my mom’s who uses it to dismiss someone’s crazy idea or erroneous assumption. For instance, if someone suggests her salad is bitter, she’ll respond by incorporating the offending word into the phrase regardless of whether it is Italian or not. “La testa tua è bitter!” (“Your head is bitter!”).

Giochi di mani, giochi di villani: Roughly translates to “Hand games; villain’s games.” My grandmother (on my mother’s side) used this one whenever she’d catch my sister and I smacking, flicking, or pinching each other.

Vati fare friggere!/Vai a farti frigerre!: Roughly translates to: “Get lost!”. Another momism. She uses this one to get in the parting shot in a typically long and frustrating discussion that has ended in a stalemate.

Chi lavora manga, chi non lavora si gratta la pancia: Translates to “He who works eats. He who doesn’t work scratches their bellies.”. Like most traditional Italians, my grandmother (on my mother’s side) had a strong work ethic and, as such, would always toss this one out whenever my sister and I would try to get out of doing our chores.

Cotto o crudo, lo fuoco la veduto: Translates to “Cooked or raw, it’s seen the fire.” This one is used when it’s time to eat and the cook isn’t quite sure whether the dish is ready or not. Regardless, it’s seen the fire and is being served.

Come una stronzo: Translates to “Like a piece of crap.” But not just any crap. A long, laborious, winding crap. My father, who almost always spoke English, would go to this one whenever caught behind a frustratingly slow driver.

Scemo/scema: Translation: “Fool” Whenever I used to goof around, my mother would reprimand me for “playing the fool” (“farre il schemo”).

Asino: Literally translates to “Ass” Figuratively, it translates to someone lazily stupid. Mom loves this one, using it to describe any number of underachieving individuals, especially when it comes to studies.

Cretino: Translates to “Cretin” or “Idiot”. This one’s a bit harsh which is why I love using it. My mother doesn’t approve but, really, who do you think I learned it from?

Ciuccio: Translates to “Idiot” as well but this one is almost endearing, a term one might use to describe a lovable village idiot.

‘sta crapa: My sister claims that it translates to “This goat.” and is uttered while indicating the person in question, sort of the equivalent to “To get a load of this one.” or “We’ve got a live one here.”

Occhi più grande dello stomaco: This one has equivalents in many languages, “Eyes bigger than the stomach”, suggesting someone who has overestimated their appetite. My mother loves to pull this one out whenever someone at the table hasn’t finished everything on their plate.

Ti se scappato la mana: Literally “It slipped/got away from your hand.” My father would use this one whenever he felt my mother had oversalted a dish, suggesting the salt got away from her.

Start with these. I’ll see what else I can come up with.

Last night, we sat down to yet another Mallozzi holiday tradition: the annual watching of the A Christmas Story dvd. Love that movie.

“Be sure to drink your ovaltine?”

49 thoughts on “December 28, 2008: Learn Italian! Impress Your Friends! Offend Your In-Laws!

  1. Coucou Joseph!!

    Demain je m’envole pour Paris!!!

    Au programe?

    -Réunion de la sgc
    -Passer des bons moment avec mon cheri
    -Savourer les succulents petit plats de sa mére
    -Faire du shopping
    -Visiter la ville
    -Et biensure gouter les macarons de Ladurée….quel meilleur endroit pour une premiére fois?

    Je vais essayer de passer dans la semaine pour vous racontez cela plus en détaille.

    Profitez bien des jours de vacances qu’il vous reste.

    En tout cas je vais beaucoup pensez à vous, car Paris ville de raffinement, de gatronomie…là, je me dit tout de suite “Joseph” ^^!

    A trés bientot. Gros Bisou!
    Je vous adore♥

  2. A friend of mine grew up in a Kansas Mennonite family, where the older folks sometimes spoke a version of German (no German I’ve ever met has recognized any of it, though). They had a saying that roughly translates to “just a nostril full.” As in: would you like more mashed potatoes? Just a nostril full.

  3. You forgot to include the phrase from “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie’s Dad reads the side of the crate and says, “Fra-gee-lay. Must be Italian.” Tee hee.

  4. I hate, hate, HATE that movie. I cannot express how much I loathe that movie. So much that it’s become a family joke. And now that TBS runs a full 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story, my husband and his father love to taunt me with it. I just can’t help it. Every time they say “You’ll shoot your eye out” I just want to scream “I’ll show you whose eye will be shot out and it WON’T BE MINE! AUGH!”

    And yet, they still tempt fate. *shakes head*

  5. The joys of growing up in a multilingual envirement. Alas, seeing the terms in writing simply won’t convey how they should actually sound. Perhaps a video of you(or better yet your mother) sharing the terms.
    And yes, Christmas story is definitely a tradition, as is the viewing of A Christmas Vacation. It’s just not the holidays if I’ve not seen those two movies by the 25th. Hope you enjoy the rest of the holidays.

  6. Hey Joe!

    Love the Italian lesson, now by reading your blog I can brush up on my international languages! The photos of the biscotti also look very delicious.

    Good to hear that you also are a fan of A Christmas Story. I love to watch it every-year, and it’s just one of those nice little Christmas traditions to watch.

    Thanks as always!

    – Enzo Aquarius

  7. i got a Christmas Story ultimate dvd set for christmas. i love that movie.. i try not to miss it every year.. i actually like ovaltine..

  8. Hi Joe!

    I think this is a common phrase in many European immigrant households. My husband’s mother would say, “First you work, then MAYBE you eat”. The maybe part was part funny and part serious. Her, her folks, and siblings came from Coratia to Germany to France to the US over 50 years ago. So your phrase:

    Chi lavora manga, chi non lavora si gratta la pancia: Translates to “He who works eats. He who doesn’t work scratches their bellies.

    fits in with a lot of mom’s wonderful rules.

    Hope you had a Merry Christmas and have a happy New Year! When are you going to give us all the answers to the Altantis poem?? TTFN

    from Indiana

  9. Your family sounds fun. Your mom looks like she’s a great cook! Thanks for the Italian lesson – I’ll have to try and remember some of those lines.

    Love A Christmas Story, Peter Billingsley turned out to be a good looking guy – I bet he’d be great for SGU!!! But he might shoot his eye out with a Zat gun or something.

  10. Central/Southern Italy, judging from some of those expressions.

    A couple of notes: “villano” in this case is not “villain” in his most common English meaning, it could be better translated as “country bumpkin”. At least, that’s how I always understood it, I could be wrong.
    Also, “ciuccio” means “pacifier” in standard Italian and has no derogative connotations, but it means “ass” in Southern Italian, just like “asino”; the two of them are almost interchangeable.

  11. Chi va piano, va sano e lontano. This is a sentence often used by my grandfather. You can translate it by “One who goes slow, goes well and far” well I’m not sure this is in a good english ^^ but I hope it translates the idea.

    Have you ever gone in Italy ? And from what region is your family from ?

    My father’s family is italian, from the Piemont, but I’m french, I live at the border I learnt italian before english even if I choose to study your language.

    Un’altra cosa che si dice in italiano per natale, “Auguri”

  12. Ahhh… these are all the italian expressions NOT found in my english to italian books.

    Can’t wait to yell at the next slow driver I’m suffering behind in Italian. 😉

  13. Oh right! I was so captivated by our Italian lesson that I forgot to say:

    @Das: Now I’m gonna have nightmares! That spider bracelt is TOTALLY freaky! *can’t wait to send her mom the link*

    @Perragrin: Hey back at ya! I got busy with family stuff. Two kids in soccer equals soccer six days a week. 🙄 Plus holiday stuff. Everything’s busy but good. 😀

    @PG15: First, I keep putting a stink’ hyphen in your name. Sorry! I think I’ve slapped that outta my typing for now. And secondly, you would love my mom. The only time I wasn’t too sure about having a mom like her is when we were in the mall and she’d be belting out the Christmas songs that would be playing thru the speakers as well as dancing. Fun when you’re six. Awkward when you’re 14 and you just spotted your secret crush. 😳 But now I’m past that and my mom can sing and dance as she sees fit. In fact, we both wore Santa hats to do our last minute Christmas Eve shopping. 😀

    @Kass: Soooo glad ya got the warm weather. Sending more you’re way, too. It was in the 80’s again! It’s DECEMBER! I’d honestly be thrilled if we got snow. I seriously would. I don’t even care if it burned up my palm trees. (They are hardy. They can recover.)

    Alrighty… got that outta my system!

    Trish 😀

  14. Hmm, not at ALL the Italian I learned. Of course, that’s probably because what I heard was really Sicilian.

    Either way, I can’t put it into print here because this is a family blog!!

    Our tradition is the watching of the Muppet Christmas Carol & singing along. Loudly. And badly.

    We celebrated another tradition tonight…the eating of the New Year’s Eve dinner. Seems the kids have other plans that night, so we did it a scooch early. They must be growing up!!

  15. I never had the benefit of another language growing up, but when my sister and I were learning Spanish our mother started to say goodbye to us as just “chair”. That was because chair in Spanish is “silla”, pronounced as in “see ya ” later.

  16. I love the Christmas Story too. My husband and I have a tradition to watch it every Christmas while decorating the tree. One of these days my husband and I my go visit the house that was used to film the movie. In Cleveland, Oh they reconstructed the exact house that it was filmed in, which also includes the lamp! The house opens as a musuem every Christmas.

    Hey Joe, Is there a way that you can wish Joe Flanigan’s and Paul McGillion a birthday wish for me since their birthdays are coming up January 5?

    Thanks for the dog pics. They are so cute.

  17. Today I went to the North End of Boston (the Italian neighborhood) and bought my mom some cannolis and pistachio cookies at the legendary Mike’s Pastry, and thought of you! There’s a fierce debate in Boston as to whether Mike’s Pastry or Modern Pastry is the better pastry shop. I think you need to visit Boston and settle the question.

  18. So, if I use the one that says, roughly translate, how much trouble do I get in if it is a really rough translation.

    Christmas Story the movie, I have to admit, I did not watch it this year, but usually get in some parts because here they play it on one channel for a 48 hour period just before Christmas and well after a few years of it, I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE! My daughter did watch it though. It does have it’s moments for me like the getting dressed to go outside in the snow suits. Oh my goodness, was that a blast from the past (even though I am youger than that time frame), my mother always did that to us to the point you could barely move in the darn things, you could only roll. Other memorable parts; The leg lamp and the phrase, “you’ll shoot your eye out”.

  19. Adding my thanks for the “Mallozzi Stone” Italian language lessons.

    I also have to admit that the Christmas Story is NOT one of my favorites. In the “not like category” is that one and It’s a Wonderful Life. Seems there is a great deal of “over acting” or maybe just my annoyance factor with them.

    In the LIKE category:
    A Christmas Carol – the first one with Reginald Owen, then the one with Alastair Sim. The versions with George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart are ok, but not as classic.

    We’re No Angels with Humphrey Bogart, and Miracle on 34th Street with Edmund Gwynn – more holiday classics.

    sigh…well, it is all over for 2008.

    Now to focus on getting 2009 brought in nicely and hopes and prayers that 2009 the world will recover from all the crap.

    Oh…almost forgot, the Biscotti look sooooo tempting.
    Compliments to the chef.

  20. Hi Joe – Sounds like your’re having a great time with family and friends. Hmmmmmm! Biscotti – yummy! Does your Mom ship to the U.S.?

    Would you believe the 13-1/4″ of snow, in my backyard, is nearly gone?!! Neighborhood streets that were impassible only 2-3 days ago are now clear and wet. Gotta love the rain in Seattle.

    Hope the same is happening in Vancouver!!

  21. “I triple dog dare you!”

    Interesting Italian lesson. No cute or interesting non-English phrases for me to share. Though, I did always wonder about the English of a friend who uttered such phrases as, “Mega wicked awesome!! Huck it out the window!”

  22. Hi Joe!
    Merry Belated Christmas! Though if I was British, I’d say “Happy Christmas” I believe. I haven’t seen A Christmas Story in a long time – I think our copy is in black and white. On an old VHS. I don’t think we even have a working tape player anymore!

    Along with the mailbag, Weird Food Purchase of the Day, and what you learned today, maybe you should add a language lesson or culture/language tidbit section too, it’d be very interesting, especially with all your travel experiences!!

  23. My brother and I are big fans of A Christmas Story. Almost got him the leg lamp for Christmas this year.

    “I triple dog dare you”


  24. Thanks for the Italian lesson… haha I think I could have used more of those when I went to Italy a couple years ago. I spoke Spanish to some of the people I met there and they looked at me like I was crazy 😛

    Make sure you thank Lawren for the yesterday’s video and pictures!!!

    Weird weather we’ve been having here… first it snowed, then it was freezing cold and there was ice from what little snow had melted, then (today and yesterday) it got up to the 50’s F!!! I love it!!!

    Wow: my computer just died, so I turned it off and back on again, and what I had already typed of my comment was still here. AweMagicsome!

    I have never ever seen A Christmas Story, although everyone keeps telling me I need to and that it’s a classic. I suppose I shall have to buy it and watch it… at one of those after Christmas sales, perhaps?

  25. My Australian fiance’s favorite saying is as follows…”It’s just a harmless garden spider,” while pointing to the huge, poisonous white tail spider (or gigantic huntsman) on the bedroom wall. heh. This is always, of course, in direct response to my hysterical cry…”Kill it now!”


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sparassidae – These things usually garner a shriek from me (which likely can be heard as far north as Canada lol)

  26. I LOVE WIRE IN THE BLOOD-I can’t wait for the new episodes to get onto BBC America. Have you read any of McDermid’s books? Man, I read Mermaids Singing before I actually saw the first episode (which is based on that book) and I thought reading the book was hard on my poor little imagination…my sister and I fell in love with the show after Carol leaves the show so we are playing catch up.
    I also am in love with ROBIN HOOD…though by accident I found out about the series 2 finale which leaves me scratching my head on why the writers did what they did and in looking into whether there will be a third series I found out Jonas will be leaving the show at the end of the series…why are all the great shows leaving the airwaves?

  27. Oooh thanks for the Italian lesson. Uh, I don’t think I’ve *EVER* watched A Christmas Story all the way through(does this make me a freak of some sort?)

    @Trish- you can keep your stinkin’ 80 degree weather 😀 that is too hot for me! 😛

  28. Of all the dishes you photograph, your Mom’s biscotti is probably the most appealing to me right now! — sorry, but just not a big gourmet type person… Too many food allergies kind of does that to one… More often than not, no matter how yummy something looks, there’s usually one key ingredient that will either kill me or make me wish I was dead!

    But that biscotti looks mostly harmless… there isn’t any fruit in it like apple or cherries…? Or other orchard tree type fruits…?

  29. Cool thanks for the lesson though I very much doubt I would ever be able to pronounce them XD
    Cheerio! or hooroo as australian tend to say (the old ones anyway)

  30. grapesofwraith said:

    “Hi Joe!
    Merry Belated Christmas! Though if I was British, I’d say “Happy Christmas” I believe.”

    Not at all dude. I’m British and I don’t believe I’ve ever wished anyone a HAPPY christmas, no siree! Christmas is Merry or not at all!

    Loved the Italian lessons, now can we have a hint as to how to deliver the lines so that next time I’m insulting someone I can sound marginally authentic? I believe Mama Mallozzi should step up to the plate and give us some tips.

    Merry New Year dude!


  31. Hi, Joe.

    With movies plus SGU in the works, it seems like SG-1 movie has been left aside. We’ve heard news about SGA movie and SGU while SG-1 movie hasn’t been even officially confirmed yet. Yes, you’ve told us that Carl Binder is working on the script and both movies are scheduled to film in summer 2009, but no official word from MGM.

    Please tell me it’s just me and there’s no reason to worry.

  32. Bucanneers suck. But at least I got immense satisfaction from the Eagles utterly burying the Cowboys and beating the odds to make it into the playoffs. Hoping they get to the Super Bowl here in Tampa!! yeah!

  33. A Christmas Story! Fantastic. TNT played it for 24 hours straight in the States on Xmas day. Watched it all day. Good stuff!

  34. shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.

    I SO should not have looked at that huntsman spider… 😯


  35. Great post Joe. Loved the Italian phrase/s translations. My father is Mexican and there are many similarities. Always good to master another language and what a great place to start.

    I’m a big fan of A Christmas Story too. That Peter B has come a long way. Did you know he’s directing his first feature film as I type? Its called Couples Retreat.

    Hey guess what? Today is my birthday!!!

    Take care


  36. Hmm.. I guess as a kid I was spoilt on the ‘languages’ front. We moved out to Munich, Bavaria when I was but a wee Bearn and along with my Bro, I was packed off to attend the International School there. My friends came from a diverse range of backgrounds including Italy, USA, Australia, Iran, Japan, Brazil, Denmark, South Africa, etc.. And I kinda grew up listening to a whole tumult of dialects/accents going on around me.

    My favourite still has to be Bavarian itself. Especially from within the farming community. It’s barely recognisable at times as anything resembling the language they speak north of Nuremburg.. And they seem to have ‘ne haufen of phrases that simply don’t translate directly into english.

    I miss the place. And skiing.. I miss that most’ve all 😛

  37. Happy holidays! Thank you for the gift of Stargate you and your writing partner have given us over the years!

    I’m looking to much more of this gift in the coming year.

    Also, can you guys grant me a Christmas/New Years wish? Can we see some of Jeannie McKay in the SGA movie? I love her interaction with Rodney and how she calls him “Mer”.

    I saw a Christmas Story in the theater when I was a kid. I love that movie!

  38. Cher Joseph,

    serions-nous au bord d’une première mondiale? Votre première journée sans blogguer depuis des lunes ? Vous n’êtes pas malade au moins.

  39. Nice to see you enjoying your holidays.

    “Corking Kippers, wot?”

    lol from the Dick Van Dyke school of cocky slang? In the North of England it would probably be ‘champion fry up luv’
    Thanks for the lessions in Italian, I may try some of those on my Intalian friend to see her reaction! lol

  40. Belated Merry Christmas to you.

    Thanks for the helpful Italian tips. Now I can insult people in 5 languages!

    Although (speaking of “A Christmas Story”) when strongly provoked I still prefer to resort to calling someone “Mundane noodle!” Great movie! It’s become one of my family’s holiday traditions as well.

    – KB

  41. One of my favorite phraseologies is from the end of Canto XXI in Dante’s Inferno. It’s just charming.

    “ed elli avea del cul fatto trombetta.”
    [and he did of his ass make a trumpet.]

    On that note, the head of the Italian department where I went to college had a sign on his office door that was also on the Gateway to Hell.

    “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”
    [Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.]

  42. Love the Italian!! LOL

    I am starting to learn the language! Altho it’s slow going at the moment as I’m using an audio lesson thing and I’m a visual learner.

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