How many proverbs do you know in your native language and in your second one?

Using proverbs means showing knowledge and familiarity with the language we are using, beyond the cultural role we are playing by keeping them alive in our speeches. Proverbs are a vivid way to express a concept with concrete metaphores; some of them are lost in time so that we don’t know where the way of saying comes from, but we keep on using them. Sometimes it is nice to find out why a concept is expressed in that way: if you look at the proverbs you probably realize that they can be summed up in different semantic fields, and one of the most used in Italian is the one of animals.

Have you ever had to face a sport challenge, an interview, an exam and has anyone wished you “in bocca al lupo“? It literally means “in the wolf’s mouth“, and it means “buona fortuna“, “good luck” in English. The reason why an Italian can wish you to end in the wolf’s mouth is actually the opposite of what that literally means, so to be successful in what you are doing, to get over it. It comes from the hunting activities, and usually it is to be answered with “crepi il lupo!” – “may the wolf die!“. Another proverb dedicated to the wolf is “il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio” (“the wolf loses its hair but not its vice“) which means that even if a person put much effort in a personal change, he or she will remain always the same with the same flaws.

Another animal used in the proverb is the elephant, who seems to have a long-lasting memory; from that comes the proverb “avere una memoria da elefante” (“have an elephant memory“). Moreover, the Italians say “essere come un elefante in una cristalleria” (“to be like an elephant in a glass shop“) to indicate a person who is not very delicate in saying or doing things. We also have a lot of proverbs dedicated to the chicken, like “la prima gallina che canta ha fatto l’uovo“, (“the first chicken that sings is the one that made the egg“) which means that the first person who reports a fact is probably responsible for it, or “gallina vecchia fa buon brodo” (“the old chicken makes a good soup“) which means that the experience is a great value. What cannot be considered as a compliment is “avere il cervello di gallina” (“to have a chicken brain“) which is pretty direct to understand..!