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Italian Idioms starting with S

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Salvare capra e cavoli (= save goad and cabbages)
It means trying to defend the rights of all who are in danger and is derived from an ancient logic game, the objective of which is to transport a wolf, a goat and a cabbage on a boat from one bank to the other of a river. Given that the boat cannot carry more than one thing at a time, the player must find the exact order of actions so that the wolf does not eat the goat or the goat does not eat cabbage. It is also assumed that the wolf will not eat the cabbage, and that while the boatman is present the wolf and the goat will not eat anything.

sangue blu (= blue blood)
This phrase was born in the 19th century, derives from the fact that the members of European royal families were suffering from hemophilia, characterized by a significant reduction in clotting ability, for which the veins appeared very dark (bluish).

Santo subito (= Saint now)
It means an overwhelming public opinion. It is an Italian slogan, shouted in 2005 to ask for a rapid canonization of Pope John Paul II. The words began to be chanted, particularly by the young followers, during the huge gathering of Catholics in Rome on the occasion of the death (April 2) and funeral (April 8) John Paul II.

Scavarsi la fossa (= to dig one's own tomb)
This phrase is used when someone performs a highly counterproductive, self-defeating action, even if unintentional. Other expressions of similar meaning are "tirarsi la zappa sui piedi" (=hit one's foot with a hoe) or "fare autogol" (= do own goal).

Segreto di Pulcinella (= Pulcinella's secret)
Something that is no longer a secret, something that has become public knowledge despite efforts to keep it hidden. The origin of the phrase is uncertain but surely derives from the Commedia dell'Arte. The character of Pulcinella, known for its irony and the habit of making fun of the powerful revealing the behind the scenes of burning situations.

Senza infamia e senza lode (= with no blame or praise)
It means something which does not have either obvious defects or qualities. The expression entered current language from the Divine Comedy. In the third canto of the Inferno, while Dante is describing the mass of the so-called "sloth", that is, the cowards who refused to stand up for any cause out of cowardice, he writes: "coloro / che visser sanza 'nfamia e sanza lodo " (=Those who lived without infamy or prais) [Inferno III 35-36]

Spada di Damocle (= Damocles' sword)
Common in many languages , the phrase refers to the danger lurking over the lives of people in power, and has a mythological origin. Damocles envied the luxury and comfort of the tyrant Dionysius, who proposed him to exchange roles for a day. Damocles had comforts and conveniences available and could command on everyone but, as he sat at the table, a sword tied to the ceiling hung constantly over his head.

Spezzare le reni (= break the back)
The expression is a famous fascist slogan, survived in the Italian language as a somewhat ironic saying. The words were pronounced by Benito Mussolini on November 18, 1940, following the disastrous situation of the Italian Greek campaign. It is perhaps inspired by the morphology of the two peninsulas: the heel of the Italian peninsula (Salento) is not far from the center of Greece, which in the metaphor represents the kidneys (Athens).

spezzare una lancia in favore di qualcuno (= break a spear for someone)
It means to take the defense of someone overwhelmed by just or unjust charges by many opponents. Ancient knights often challenged to a duel to defend the honor of those who (a damsel, the king) could not take the field, and sometimes it happened that during the first assault, carried on horseback with a spear, this would break against the armor of the opponent.

sul filo di lana (= on a wool's thread)
The expression means to reach a goal with a very thin margin. It seems that this phrase was born in the environment of competitive running race where, to determine who the winner was, a wool thread was extended on the finish line.