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ROMAN DIALECT
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IDIOMATIC EXPRESSIONS

updated June 2004






arimané (restà) come ddon Farcuccio

The expression in full is arimané (or restà) come ddon Farcuccio: co 'na mano davanti e n'antra de dietro, which means "to remain as Father Falcuccio, with one hand in front and another one behind", and it refers to a hypothetical priest named Falcuccio who, left without his clothes, remained in fact naked, thus in the need of covering his private parts with "one hand in front and another one behind".
Usually, only the first half of the expression is mentioned, as the second part is too well known.
It indicates a situation, a mishap, an event in which the subject to whom the expression is referred (i.e. he who is compared to don Falcuccio) is caught between two fires, or has to endure some kind of damage in either of two cases, and so on.
For instance, if somebody buys a car by instalments but it is stolen before it is fully payed for, or if a wife catches her husband red-handed with his lover, and both women decide to quit him, one remains "as Father Falcuccio".



fa' come faceveno l'antichi

Also this expression is commonly mentioned only with its first half, being the full sentence: fa' come faceveno l'antichi, che maggnaveno la cccia e bbuttaveno li fichi (i.e. "to do as the ancient people did, who ate the peel and threw away the figs".
According to this playful saying, obviously not based on reality, the ancient people used to eat the peel (coccia, in roman), discarding the best part of the fruit.
It is always addressed to those who carry out their deeds or act in a strange or unusual way, which is apparently couterproductive: for instance, if somebody invests his money on stocks that keep losing their value, he does "as the ancient people did".



li guadaggni de maria cazzetta

An expression very similar to the previous one, whose liberal translation may be "mary fuck's bargains". As suggested by the disparaging name of the fictional personage, this is a teasing remark used to comment a deal which is only apparently convenient, but actually turns out to be unfavourable. For instance, if we buy a second-hand car to save money, but then it needs repairs, so that our final expense is as much as the cost of a new one (or even more).
Usually, the remark would be: che bbr guadaggno (or in plural form: che bbi guadaggni) de maria cazzetta!, i.e. "what a bad deal! what a fake bargain!".



avcce le madonne

"To have Madonnas" really means "to have the fumes, to be bad-tempered, peevish", usually due to some mishap which has recently occurred.
Typical examples of its use are sentences such as: oggi lassàteme perde, che ci certe madonne... (i.e. "today leave me alone, I'm rather bad-tempered..."), or che cii le madonne? (i.e. "are you in a bad mood?").
Take note that the verb is always used in its reflexive form (avecce le madonne), never in its positive form (av le madonne).



av (avcce) le saccòcce fatt'a llumàca

"To have pockets in the shape of a snail" is a brilliant metaphor addressed to whom is known to be stingy, and sometimes to be a scrounger. Often such people pretend to search for change, lingering with their hand deep down in their pockets, never succeeding in finding coins (or never finding them in time before someone else pays).
Therefore, who appears to be a thrifty person, who is very careful about his own expenses, who at the bar is always without his wallet, has "pockets in the shape of a snail".



tre ppiggne e 'na tenaja

Also this expression, "three pine-cones and a pair or pincers", means "to be stingy". G. G. Belli explains in one of his notes:
It is addressed to misers, because the pine-cone barely releases its seeds, while pincers firmly hold what they have already clasped.
So, be careful not to show yourselves too reluctant in paying, sharing with others food or drinks, etc.: you might run the risk of being labelled as tre ppiggne e 'na tenaja!



ten (argge) er fiato co li denti
st ppi de ll che dde qua

Due to the common people's superstition, the roman dialect is full of idiomatic expressions which refer to one's bad health conditions, to be next to passing away, and so on, without having to explicitly mention the disease: in fact the commoners believe that even the word alone would be a carrier of bad luck, thus requiring for this purpose an impromptu exorcism: the expression sarv'oggnuno (more or less "may everybody be spared"), although today it is no longer frequently used.
Instead, the expressions previously mentioned by-pass the problem with a certain cleverness: ten (or argge) er fiato co li denti means "to hold one's breath with one's teeth", and is sufficiently clear: it is evocative of a sick person who, as in a Baroque danse macabre, is barely able to prevent his soul from flying away.
Also st ppi de ll che dde qua ("to be more on that side than on this one") is sufficiently clear, being referred to "the next world".



ann all'arberi pizzuti
ann a ffa' ttra pe cceci
stirà le cianche
annssene all'antri carzoni
tir er cazzo ar pettirosso

If the roman dialect takes care not to mention diseases, just imagine when time comes to cope with la commare secca ("the skinny woman", i.e. death): the circumlocutions are even more numerous and more colourful.
Among those still in use today is ann all'arberi pizzuti ("to go to the pointed trees"), i.e. to go where the cypresses (pointed trees) are, since in Italy the cypresss is a tree commonly found in cemeteries. But also ann a ffa' ttra pe cceci ("to go and make soil for the chick-peas"), which is a common vegetable used in the local cooking tradition, testifies that even in front of the most ineluctable fate, the real roman would never give up boasting a certain sense of detachment and an ironic attitude. And the expression stirà le cianche (i.e. "to stretch one's legs") is a further example of this.
The fourth expression, annssene all'antri carzoni ("to go to the other trowsers"), which has become rather unusual, is found in Giggi Zanazzo's texts, and probably refers to the custom of dressing a dead person with his best clothes, thus with a pair of trowsers that he did not wear very often.
Instead what remains unclear is the meaning of the fifth and unfortunately extinct expression, tir er cazzo ar pettirosso ("to pull the robin's dick"), rather colourful, which is found in G.G.Belli's sonnets.



da' un cristo

The literal meaning of da' un cristo is "to give a Christ", and in this case "christ" is used in the sense of "a heavy blow, a knock".
Therefore, "to give a christ" means "to hit a hard surface", for instance: quann' ccascato ha ddato un cristo sur pavimento ("when he fell down he hit the pavement"), or ho 'ntruppato er muro e ho ddato un cristo co la capoccia ("I hit the wall and I gave a knock with my head").
Basically, a christ is given, but its consequences are ...received.
A further popular expression based on this one is manco si tte dai un cristo in petto, "no, even if you give yourself a blow in the chest" (an archetypal sign of repent and atonement), which means "definitely no, no in any case". Ask somebody to lend you his new expensive car, and he will probably reply: te lo pi scord, manco si tte dai un cristo in petto ("you can forget it, it's definitely no").



brega

"Brega" is an imaginary personage of Rome's fantasy, always mentioned as a non-existing person, as to say "Mr.Nobody".
An example will clear any doubt about the use of this expression. Catch a taxi, and once you arrive tell the driver that you forgot your wallet; his reaction may be: e mm cchi ppaga? Brega? (i.e. "and now who will pay? Mr.Nobody?").



cacìni

"Cacini" is another imaginary personage, created more recently than Brega, this time mentioned as a very powerful person, of great ability, almost as "Superman".
To someone who simply boasts or actually carries out something very grand, which may appear impossible, the comments (often revealing a slight envy) could be: "E cchi ssei? Cacini?", ("Who are you? Cacini?") or "Ah, arivato Cacini!", (Hey, Cacini is here!) and so on.
It may be also addressed to a third person: E cchi ? Cacini? ("Who is he? Cacini?"), etc., but it is never used for plural persons.



par un sallàzzero

It is known that St.Lazarus' martyrdom consisted in making a human target out of the wretched saint, since his torturers took the maximum care in shooting him with their arrows only in the non-vital parts of his body. The classic iconography has left us the image of a man who sheds blood from his many wounds.
From this point of view, maybe a little eerie, "to look like a Saint Lazarus" means "to be really in bad shape", as the result of physical lesions suffered, but also in a metaphorical sense: a typical comment by roman mothers to their own children who got dirty while playing may be va' ccome te sei combinato, me pari un sallàzzero! (i.e. "what a mess of yourself you made, you look like a Saint Lazarus!").



di' cótica

This expression is always used in an emphatic sense, and literally means "to tell somebody something bad, offensive". Its most common form is indeed the interrogative one: to somebody giving us a hard, unkind or rude reply, without any reason, we may ask: ah, ma che tt'ho ddetto cótica? (i.e. "hey, did I say to you something wrong?"), or e cche magnera d'arisponne, e cche j'ho ddetto cótica? (i.e. "what a way of replying, did I say something wrong to him?").
For the sake of precision, in roman dialect the word cótica means the hard skin of edible animals, often too tough to be eaten, for instance the pork's skin.



pijlla d'aceto
ann in puzza

The first expression sounds as "to take it as vinegar" and it is has the meaning of exaggerating one's reaction, taking offence or getting angry for something that has just been said (a joke, a criticism, a spicy comment, or the like): che esaggerato, l'ha pijata d'aceto ("how exaggerated, he took it too bad"). As a metaphor, it refers to someone whose friendly attitude turns sour, as well as good wine may turn into distasteful vinegar. The letter C in "aceto" should always sound as a very slippery SH.

The second expression (alternatives are anncce in puzza and ann de puzza) belongs to contemporary dialect, and it sounds as "to start stinking", more or less as deperishable foodstuffs do when they rot. The metaphor is very similar, although this one is used when someone gets clearly angry or irritated in losing one's face in front of others (i.e. being laughed at or teased, or losing a contest, and the like) instead of keeping a cool head: quanno s' arzato rideveno tutti, e lui c' annato (c' ito) un po' in puzza, that is "when he stood up everybody was laughing, and he got somewhat irritated".



acciacc l'ova

"To crush eggs" is ironically said about somebody who walks very slowly, almost with caution, as if he was carefully treading upon a layer of eggs.
It is used in a negative sense, therefore it is usually addressed to somebody else, not to oneself.



èsse pace

This expression is always used in the only form sémo pace ("we are peace"), which between two sides is the same as saying "we are quits, none of the two owes anything to the other any longer".
For instance: ècchete ducentomila lire, m sémo pace, which means "here are two hundred thousand lire, now we are quits" (i.e. "my debt has been extinguished").



come stmio arimanssimo

Literally, this means "as we were, we remained", but as a stock expression it may be referred to any person, singular or plural (not only to the first plural person). For instance, if you are trapped in a traffic-jam, and after half an hour you are still on the same spot, your thought may be come stamio arimanessimo!, meaning "nothing has changed, there hasn't been any improvement".



èsse de coccio

It is a very common expression, whose literal meaning is "to be made of earthenware". The material is referred to the person's head, and the idiomatic meaning is more or less "to be a blockhead" or "to be excessively stubborn".
For instance, to the typical bunch of kids who keeps yelling and shouting while they play, after a few requests to be more quiet, one could say: a regazz, allora séte de coccio! (i.e. "boys, you are really stubborn, aren't you?").
In the same way, after explaining five times the same concept to a student, in reply to the latter's persistent doubts a teacher may think (or say) "ah, sei propio de coccio" ("hey, you are really a blockhead").
To make this idiomatic expression complete, it should be accompanied by the gesture of rapping with the closed fist upon a hard surface (the table, the wall, etc.), so to produce a knocking sound, which recalls the hard consistency of a piece of crockery. In fact, an alternative expression is èsse de legno ("to be made of wood").



ann (fa', pij, ecc.) a l'inzecca

Inzecca comes from the verb inzecc (or inzeccàcce, "to make a correct guess"), so that the whole expression sounds as "to go (do, take, etc.) by the guess, at random".
For instance: me s giucato a' llotto tre nummeri a l'inzecca (i.e. "I bet on three random numbers in the lottery".



morìsse de pizzichi

Common expression, literally meaning "to die of pinches", but idiomatically it sounds as "to be terribly bored", always used in its reflexive form. It may be used to censure any activity, place, circumstance, etc. that does not offer any interest, or that is disliked, causing one's disappointment.
Che a Ppasqua séte annati fòra? No, ssémo rimasti a ccasa a mmorisse de pizzichi (or No, ssémo rimasti a ccasa e sse sémo morti de pizzichi), which means "Did you go out for Easter? No, we stayed at home and got awfully bored".



fa' marco sfila

This expression has a meaning of "to run away, to go back, to beat the retreat, etc.", and it may have several shades of meaning according to the context, as shown by the following samples:
li ladri s entrati, se s ffregati tutto, e hanno fatto marco sfila (i.e. "the thieves broke in, stole everything, and ran away");
quanno li sordati ar fronte resteno senza le munizzione, mejo fa' mmarco sfila che ffasse pij dda li nimichi (i.e. "when the soldiers on the front remain without ammunition, it is better to retreat than to be captured by the enemies").



èsse anticaj'e ppetrella
èsse de li tempi de Checch'e Nnina

Both expressions are referred to "old and obsolete objects" (generally, of common use), thus almost unfit for the purpose which they are made for. Therefore, the shade of meaning given by these expressions is alsways negative.
For instance, if a friend still has in his house a black and white TV set, our funny comment may be: Anvedi! E 'nd l'hai rimediata? Quell' anticaj'e ppetrella, or ... Quell' de li tempi de Checch'e Nnina (i.e. "Look! Where did you find that? That's a really obsolete thing"), but also 'Nd l'hai rimediata st'anticaj'e ppetrella? (i.e. "Where did you find this prehistoric remain?").
The first of the two may be also used as a noun: 'nd l'hai rimediata st' anticaj'e ppetrella? for "where did you find this relic?".
As for the origin of these expressions, the first one comes from pietrelle, i.e. small stones, referring to fragments and small objects mostly coming from archaeologic sites or old collections, which represented scrap pieces compared to the more valuable items, and therefore ended up on the stalls of bric-a-brac sellers. The second one has a more fantastic origin, as it means "by the time of Checco and Nina", almost as "once upon a time", referring to two personages called Francesco (Checco) and Giovanna (Nina).



tja ch' rosso!

Literally meaning "cut, it's red!", this was the old cry of the roman water-melon sellers (cocommerari), a category still extant, who invited the people to "cut [the water-melon] because bright red", i.e. well ripe.
More in general, this expression has been given the metaphoric meaning of "to take advantage" in the case of a lucky or particularly favourable occasion, which should be seized without delay.



'gni bbotta 'na tacchia

In full length, ogni botta una tacchia, this expression means "every strike is a hit, leaves a mark", i.e. "to be on the target at every try". It may be referred to its actual meaning, but more often it is used metaphorically. For instance, a playboy boasting with his friends his many love adventures, may proudly comment them as: 'gni bbotta 'na tacchia.



nun c' ttrippa pe' ggatti

This expression, literally "there is no tripe for cats", means "there is no hope that something asked for or awaited for may be given or allowed". It is commonly adopted to say no to somebody in a very clear and firm way: the shop-owner to whom a customer keeps asking for a credit would answer nne, qui nun c' trippa pe' ggatti (i.e. "no, you can forget it, it's no good insisting").
It is similar to the aforesaid manco si tte dai un cristo in petto; however, in this case the expression contains a slightly different shade of meaning: "no, because you are trying to take advantage of the situation", as a cat who stands by the butcher's to be given the spare giblets.
The expression was born during the early 1900s, when the popular mayor of Rome Ernesto Nathan cancelled from the Municipality's budget the purchase of tripe for the cats that were used for clearing the Capitolium of rats. But due to the poor results of this strategy (and to the tripe's rising price!) on the Municipality's account book appeared the sentence Non c' trippa per gatti.
(an acknowledgement to Elisabetta Anastasio for the historical source)


nun sap a cchi dd li resti

This expression literally sounds as "not to know whom to give the remains", but it is used with a meaning of "no longer be able to cope with a given situation", said by whom is overloaded with an excessive number of duties, or customers, or requests, etc., and fears not to be able to come ahead of them.
Apparently, its origin is rooted in the old custom that butchers' shop assistants had to take away the remains, such as bones, giblets, etc. to the nearest dump; along the way, people belonging to the lowest social classes followed and surrounded the cart full of remains, begging for some of them. The shop assistant is credited for the expression "not to know whom to give the remains", either because exasperated for being continuously surrounded by the crowd of beggars, or because he might have had to choose whom of the many people was to be given those "delicacies". Luckily, nowadays the expression is only used metaphorically.
(an acknowledgement to Elisabetta Anastasio for the historical source)


sse come la sra Camilla

In full length, the expression is: sse come la sra Camilla, che tutti la vnno e nisuno se la piglia (which means "to be like Miss Camilla, that everybody wants and nobody marries").
Also this saying has a historical basis: dame Camilla, sister of Felice Peretti, a.k.a. pope Sixtus V, had many suitors ...but she ended up in a convent. Thus the expression, that ironically refers to this fact, and is metaphorically used also for other contexts: for instance, to whom is offered several jobs but is never taken, we may well say that he is like Miss Camilla.
On linguistic grounds, care should be taken in pronouncing correctly the "o" of sra (note the acute accent), not to mistake it with sra (grave accent, "sister, nun", although in roman dialect for this word monica is always used). Furthermore, it is more common to say piglia instead of pija, so to create a better assonance with the name of the spinster.



(ariman) pe' sseme de patata

"(To remain) as a potato seed" has a certain resemblance with the the previous expression: it means "to be left alone, without a partner or a companion". In fact, it is more often addressed to spinsters: 'sta mi fija m' arimasta pe' sseme de patata, i.e. "this daughter of mine has not got married yet" (which implies an unappeased wish or a failed attempt to find a husband). But it can also be used in a more generic sense: se ne so' iti tutti e m'hanno lassato l ppe' sseme de patata, i.e. "everybody went away, and I was left there all alone".
A known variant, used by G.G.Belli, is pe' sseme de cavolo ("as a cabbage seed").



chi tocca 'n ze 'ngrugna

"He whose turn it is, shoudn't frown" is the literal meaning, for "he whose [unlucky] turn comes, should endure the situation without getting angry", as to say "everybody in turn may be touched by the same misfortune". It is used as a comment to various types of unlucky events (a loss at gambling games, a tax assessment, an unexpected visit by one's own mother-in-law), to cheer up the unlucky person (yet with a slight irony), or as a reply to his complaints. Sometimes it is used by the same person who suffers the ill-fate, proving the fatalist and somewhat "sporting" spirit of the authentic roman.



ariconzolsse co l'ajetto

Literally this expression means "to console oneself with garlic", but it is used in the sense of "seeking a partial consolation after a loss or a mishap" with something often cheap or trivial. Who pronounces these words, though, does so with a slightly ironic shade of meaning.
It is commonly used also by whom endures the ill-fate, in the plural form (ariconzolamose co l'ajetto), as to say "let's accept a minor compensation".
If our wallet is stolen but at least our documents are found, or if the TV set breaks down one hour before an important match and a friend of ours lends us a radio, we can say ...ariconzolamose co l'ajetto!.



requi'e schiatt'in pace ammnne

This is a cunning corruption of the last verse of the Latin prayer for the dead: requiescant in pace, amen ("may they rest in peace, amen"), that contains the roman verb schiattare ("to give up the ghost, to die"). It may be used as a laconic comment, yet typically tinged with roman irony, when being informed that somebody has passed away. Less often, it may even be addressed to somebody still alive, as a veiled wish of ...ending his days in a short time.

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