Money Talks in the Italian Language

Nov 15, 2011

Blog money euro

il denaro, i soldi


With Italy’s financial crisis (crisi finanziaria) rattling money markets (mercati monetari) around the world, everyone is talking about il denaroPovera Italia (poor Italy), with a huge national debt (debito pubblico). is desperately short of money (a corto di denaro). If unable to pay off the debt (estinguere il debito), the country could end up senza un soldo (without a dime)–or squattrinato (penniless).

The wealthy (ricchi or facoltosi danarosi) still seem to be rolling in money (nuotare nell’oro, literally swimming in gold). But almost everyone else is looking for ways to make money (fare soldi) and earn more “dough” (quattrini) to get out of debt (tappare un buco, or fill up a hole). Sometimes debtors (debitori)  are robbing Peter to pay Paul (fare un debito per pagarne un altro, or incurring one debt to pay off another).

Being in debt (avere un debito) is hardly unusual. Many Americans have a sizable mortgage debt (mutuo ipotecario or mutuo); most of us run up some sort of petty debt (debituccio) at times.  As Italy has discovered, getting out of debt (uscire dal debito) can be very difficult, especially when banks don’t want to lend money (prestare denaro) or one has to pay through the nose (pagare profumatamente or fragrantly) for a loan.

Usury (usura), lending at exorbitant rates, is nothing new. Centuries ago Italians coined the word strozzinaggio for such profiteering and dubbed a usurer a strozzino—both terms derived from “strozzare” for strangle or choke. In his Divine Comedy, Dante damned usurers to the seventh circle of hell, lower than murderers.

Some colorful proverbs provide other Italian perspectives on wealth and its pursuit:

*”Denaro e santità metà della metà.” Money and holiness, half of half. Statements regarding money and saintliness tend to be exaggerated, so take them with a grain of salt.

*“Chi ha mangia, chi non ha, s’arrangia." Who’s got it (money is implied ) eats. Who doesn’t makes do.  

*“Senza lilleri ‘un si lallera.” This Tuscan dialect saying is hard to translate, but basically means “no deeds without dings,” or nothing happens without money.

*“I quattrini mandan l’acqua all’insù.” Money sends water upwards–or can do the impossible.

*“Il denaro apre tutte le porte.” Money opens all doors—similar to the English “money talks.”

*“L’ultimo vestito ce lo fanno senza tasche.” The last suit (dress) is made without pockets. So even if you accumulate a fortune, you can’t take it with out.

Remember too that money can’t buy happiness. Or as the Italians say, “I soldi non fanno la felicità” (money doesn’t make happiness).

Words and Expressions

 pagare in contanti -– to pay in cash

quattro soldi –- used to refer to something cheap, worth only "two bits"

non valere un soldo bucato, non valere niente — not to be worth a penny

Il tempo è denaro –- Time is money.

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language.

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