Italian Expressions with Parts of the Body
Languages can be very different, but there are some common elements that show how similar people are, in spite of the differences between their languages. Idioms, for instance, are one of these common elements. Every language has idioms and, above all, every language has idioms about parts of the body; also, some of them are used in the same way. Here there are some examples of the most popular expressions about the body in Italian.
“Mettere la mano sul fuoco” – (literally “to put your hand on fire”). No, this is not about pyromania; it’s about your confidence that something will happen. It comes from the Latin story of Muzio Scevola, who failed to kill his enemy and punished himself burning his hand into the fire and swearing that somebody else would have succeeded in that mission.
When you boyfriend tells you “she’s nobody, I don’t like her, I love you” but you don’t trust him he could say “Ci puoi mettere la mano sul fuoco” (“I swear it, trust me”) and then… You can choose to “put your hand on fire” or not, but, of course, don’t take it literally!
“Alzare il gomito” – (literally “to lift your elbow”). This is something you will hear more on Saturday nights rather than during a visit to the physiotherapist, as it means “to drink too much”. Actually there’s no need to explain its meaning: what reason would you have to lift your elbow but for drinking? Well, maybe for greeting your friends, but nobody would think about that.
“Fare il passo più lungo della gamba” – (literally “to make a step longer than your leg”). This expression corresponds to the English version “to bite off more than one can chew”. It describes situations where a person starts something too difficult for his/her ability.
“Una mano lava l’altra e tutte e due lavano il viso” – (literally “hands wash each other and both wash your face”). This idiom explains the advantages of mutual help. A hand cannot be washed by itself; it always needs its companion. Moreover, together they can wash the face. Similarly, people who cooperate can have several advantages and they can achieve amazing results. So the meaning of this idiom is similar to another one very popular in Italy: “l’unione fa la forza” (“strenght through unity”).
The parts of the body are very common in Italian idioms, some more than others. What about your native language? Which parts of the body are the most used in idioms and what is their connotation?