Staying Healthy in the Italian Language

Jan 22, 2018


ITH18 cover


To your health!

Through most of my career as a journalist and author, I've written, not about Italian, but about health (la salute). In what I think of as my day job (il mio vero lavoro), I've authored 18 full-length and 10 brief editions of the best-selling college health textbook, An Invitation to Health.  

“If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything” (Quando c’è la salute, c’è tutto) my mother used to say. She was right. Nothing is more valuable than a healthy mind in a healthy body (mente sana in corpo sano, from the Latin mens sana in corpore sano). English speakers strive to be healthy as a horse; Italians, to be healthy as a fish (sano come un pesce).

“Salute!“ Italians say when someone sneezes. What more could you wish someone than to be in buona or ottima salute (good or excellent health) or pieno di salute (full of health)? Who wouldn't want to scoppiare di salute (burst with health) or sprizzare salute da tutti i pori (squirt health from all pores)?

Lots of us aspire to be in piena forma (in full or perfect shape) or at least to avoid acciacchi (aches and pains). But being in bad shape (essere in cattiva forma) inspires a host of colorful idioms in Italian.

If you have un brutta cera (literally a bad wax), you may stare poco bene (be just a bit well) or non sentirsi molto in forma (not feel in very good shape). Those who ammalarsi gravemente (are gravely ill) may avere un piede nella tomba (have one foot in the grave), essere spacciato (be done for), essere sul letto di morte (be on one’s deathbed), or essere tra la vita e la morte (be between life and death.

If you find yourself in such dire straits, you must guardare la morte in faccia (look death in the face) and reggere l’anima coi denti (hold on to your soul with your teeth). With luck and good care, you soon will rimettersi in salute (put yourself back into health).

Staying healthy (rimanere in buona salute) isn’t complicated. Go for a check-up (visita medica di controllo) regularly. Don't smoke (non fumare). Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day (cinque porzioni di frutta e verdura al giorno).  Watch your weight (stai attento al tuo peso). Set aside time every day for exercise (attività fisica) as well as for silence and repose (silenzio e riposo). 

I asked Italians if they believe the English expression that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Yes, they said, "Una mela al giorno leva il medico di torno." They also offered some advice for oral health: “Un bacio al giorno toglie il dentista di torno.” (A kiss a day keeps the dentist away.)

Words and Expressions

Mettersi in malattia / essere in malattia — to take sick leave from work, to be on sick leave

Guarisci presto! -– Get well soon!

Gli acciacchi dell’età –- the infirmities of old age

Prevenire è meglio che curare – preventing is better than curing

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.

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