The Year of Food in the Italian Language: Eating

Aug 23, 2018



To eat, eating 

2018 has been designated "the year of Italian food,"  but eating isn't just a national pastime in Italy: It's become part of the Italian language. 

Preparing a meal or feeding family and friends translates as fare da mangiare (to make for eating). “Mangia, mangia!” ("Eat! Eat!") Italian mothers have always urged children. The highest compliment a customer — particularly a buona forchetta (good fork or hearty eater) — can give a restaurant is to say “si mangia bene” (one eats well) there.

Consider other ways one can eat in Italy:

*Mangiare a scrocco / a ufo /a sbafo — eat on the cheap, at one’s own expense

*Mangiare come uno scricciolo/un uccellino/un grillo –- to eat like a wren/ birdie/ cricket (to eat very little)

*Mangiare a quattro palmenti –- to eat a lot and greedily

*Mangiare sano –- to eat healthily

When it’s time to eat, Italians call, “Tutti a tavola!” (Everyone to the table!) If you are so hungry you could eat an ox (mangiare un bue), you may have to resist the temptation to fare una scorpacciata (stuff your face) like a mangione (glutton).

Remember: “L’appetito vien mangiando.” (Appetite comes with eating, so the more you eat, the more you want.) But don’t worry about how much time you spend eating because, according to an old proverb, “A tavola non si invecchia mai.” (You never grow old at the table.)

If you’re not feeling well, you should mangiare in bianco (eat white or plain food like boiled rice or pasta without sauce). Try to avoid mangiucchiare (nibbling or toying with your food)—or eating alone. “Chi non mangia in compagnia è un ladro o una spia,” Italians warn. “Who doesn’t eat with a companion is a thief or a spy.” A grim fate awaits the solitary diner, according to another saying: “Chi mangia solo crepa solo.” (Who eats alone dies alone.)

In Italy you can eat more than actual food. A mangiatutto (eater of everything, or spendthrift) may mangiarsi un patrimonio (eat up or waste his inheritance). If you’re enamored, you might divorare /mangiare uno con gli occhi (devour or eat with your eyes) the object of your affection. If you’re angry, you may mangiarti vivo uno (eat someone alive — or jump down his throat). Or you could become so resentful that you want to mangiarti il fegato (literally eat your liver).

mangiapane (bread-eater) is a loafer;  a mangiapreti, a priest-eater or rabid anticleric. Italians call a seductive, man-eating woman a mangiauomini and a mediocre, ineffective lawyer a mangiacarte (paper eater).  Worst of all is someone so terrible-looking that he’s called a mangiabambini (baby-eater, or bogey man).

Words and Expressions 

Magnare (Romanesco), pappare — slang or dialect words for eating

Mangereccio, mangiabile — edible, eatable

Pappone — greedy eater, but also pimp

Mangiare la foglia — to eat the leaf (smell a rat, see through something)

Mangiarsi le unghie — bite one’s nails

Si mangia per vivere, non si vive per mangiare — You eat to live, not live to eat

Ti mangerei di baci! –- I would eat you up! (a sweet expression usually used with children) 

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

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