I am delighted to share a series of posts from Riccardo Cristiani, the head Italian teacher at Dante Learning. We hope that they will help you to understand some conversational Italian sentences and idioms you normally won’t learn in language classes.

Blog scarpe

Quello che non ti insegnano: Scarpe

What they don’t teach you: Shoes

by Riccardo Cristiani

Shoes are the subject of a large number of idioms in many languages. Some of the following Italian phrases are very close to common English expressions. If you know others or have questions, please share them with us.  

*Fare le scarpe a qualcuno.

"To make shoes  for someone" is not really an act of generosity. It means someone will get rid of an opponent or competitor, generally at work, with a cold and perfect plan, out of malice. This comes from the old tradition of making a new pair of shoes for a dead person for the funeral. You get the picture.

*Non è degno di lustrargli le scarpe.

St. John, speaking of Jesus, said “I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.” Italians use this expression for someone so utterly inferior that he is not even good enough to shine another's shoes.

*Appendere le scarpe al chiodo. 

This phrase comes from soccer. When a player reaches a certain age, “he hangs up his boots.” It means that you are too old to keep doing what you do.

*Avere un piede in due scarpe.

This is obviously a paradox since you can’t have a foot in two shoes. It means that you are trying to accomplish two goals, and you need to make a choice pretty soon. I also have heard avere due piedi in una scarpa (two feet in one shoe).

*Togliersi un sassolino dalla scarpa.

Literally, to get rid of a stone in your shoes. When something is bothering you for some time but you have to keep going, a moment will come when you need to vent and say what you think.

Click here to listen to Riccardo's blog and to hear each of these phrases–and a bonus one–used in a sentence.

English-to-Italian Expressions

This post inspired me to think of English "shoe" phrases, which Riccardo translated:

"The shoe is on the other foot." 

We’d say “le parti si sono invertite” (the roles are reversed) or use a rapid hand gesture, flipping it from palm to back and saying “da così a così”

"*If the shoe fits, wear it!" 

We’d say “se tanto mi dà tanto” —  if the math is right,  used ironically with the same meaning.

"Big shoes to fill."  

We would simply say “un vuoto da riempire” (a vacuum to fill).  Or speaking directly  to the person, “ne devi mangiare di pane (or pasta)” meaning “you need to eat a lot of bread (or pasta)” in order to grow up and fill the gap.

Dante-Learning is an online Italian language school based in Milan and Tokyo, with students from many countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia and Japan.

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.