Italian Idioms starting with U
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Un giro di vite (= one turn of a screw)
This generally means the tightening of a penalty in respect of a particular offense. Its use has become common in every human environment when it comes to any stiffening of a rule or a way of behaving. Its etymology derives from the garrote, a death penalty practiced in Spain in the past. In this type of execution, in fact, at every turn of the screw an iron ring became tighter around the throat of the condemned, until he died by strangulation.
un pezzo da novanta (= to be a huge piece (important)
It is used to indicate the importance of someone. This expression comes from the military jargon and refers to the caliber (ninety, in fact) of the biggest firearm, the cannon.
una palla al piede (= ball chained to one's foot)
The expression refers to a thing or person extremely annoying, that keeps someone from advancing, and is derived from the lead ball tied to the foot of prisoners to prevent their escape.
Uovo di Colombo (= Egg of Columbus)
The egg of Columbus is a widespread phrase, used in different languages to describe a simple solution to a seemingly impossible problem. The origin is a popular, probably false anecdote, which has the Genoese navigator Christopher Columbus as its protagonist. After his return from America in 1493, Columbus was invited by Cardinal Mendoza to a dinner in his honor. Here some Spanish gentlemen tried to downplay him, saying that the discovery of the New World would not have been so difficult and that anyone could do with proper means. Hearing this, Columbus was angry, and challenged the Spanish nobles in what seemed an easy enterprise: make an egg stand upright on the table. Each of them made several attempts, but none succeeded and they gave up, convinced it was an insoluble problem, and begged Columbus to show a solution. Columbus tapped the egg gently on the table breaking it slightly and the egg stood upright. When bystanders protested, saying that they could do the same too, Colombo said, "The difference, my friends, is that you could have done it, but I did."
Uscire per il rotto della cuffia (= get out with the inside of the helmet)
It means to cope with a very difficult situation at the last moment. In the ancient game of Quintana, which is repeated to the present day on the second Sunday of September in Foligno, a knight must hit with a spear a rotating puppet depicting a Saracen, and not be hit in his turn. The judges consider valid the blow of a knight that, after hitting the puppet, is only slightly touched on the "cuffia" (=headcover) used as a protection.