Italian Idioms starting with P

Idioms are a key aspect in language learning, often connected to the history and culture of a nation. Here some idioms beginning with P- are translated and explained.

Idioms Ordered Alphabetically

[ A ] [ B ] [ C ] [ D ] [ E ] [ F ] [ G ] [ I ] [ L ] [ M ] [ N ] [ O ] [ P ] [ Q ] [ R ] [ S ] [ T ] [ U ] [ V ] [ Z ]

Pagare salato (= pay salted)

With the meaning of paying too much for something, derives from ancient times, when the extraction of salt from the sea depended on expensive and dangerous manufacturing systems. That's why salt had a very high value.

Per un punto Martin perse la cappa (= for a full stop Martin lost his cloak)

It is said when an error related to a seemingly unimportant detail sometimes leads to disastrous consequences. According to the tradition, which dates back to the 16th century, Martino was the abbot of the monastery of Asello. If you want to embellish his abbey, he decided to put a sign on the main portal to welcome the inscription:
"Porta patens esto. Nulli claudatur honesto" = The door is to remain open. To no honest man it must be closed " The message expressed truly Christian generosity and charity. The craftsman in charge of the work (or, in other versions of the story, the Abbot himself), however, mistook the position of the period and wrote:
"Porta patens esto nulli. Claudatur honesto", ie
"The door is to remain open to no man. To a honest man it must be closed." The news of such a message reached the upper hierarchy officials, who deprived the abbot of his cloak, a symbol of his role.
Per un punto Martin perse la cappa

Perdere la Trebisonda (= lose Trebisonda)

This manner of speaking, that is similar to "perdere la bussola" (lose the compass) and expresses the idea of losing control, comes from the name of the Turkish city of Trabzon, which was an important visual landmark for ships, to the point that, if a wrong route was chosen, there might be hazards and shipwrecks.

Perdere le staffe (= lose the brackets)

This manner of speaking, that means getting angry to the point of no longer controlling one's temper, refers to the brackets, ie the rings that were attached to the legs of the horses to allow riders to fit comfortably on the saddle.

Pesce d'aprile (= April's fish)

The Italian equivalent of "April's fools" takes origin from an ancient Roman episode. One day the emperor Domitian summoned the Senate for an emergency. The senators, very agitated and worried, came right away. In came two slaves carrying a tray with a big fish. Domitian, looking very serious, asked those present: "Here's the problem! How should I cook it?" Since that day was April 1, tradition believes that from the incident April Fool's joke originated.

Piantare in Asso (= leave in Naxus)

With the meaning "to abandon at a crucial moment" it is a corruption of the "piantare in Nasso". It has a mythological origin and refers to Theseus, who was aided by Ariadne to defeat the Minotaur and escape the maze, but then abandoned her on the island of Naxos.

Pietra miliare (= mile stone)

In colloquial, literary or journalistic vocabulary, a milestone is an event, or a character so important as to be considered a turning point in a historical, scientific, cultural or even individual process. A milestone was a column placed to mark distances along ancient Roman roads.

Pietra dello scandalo (= stumbling block)

In ancient Rome, debtors and bankrupt traders were exposed to public humiliation in a "bonorum cessio culo nudo super lapidem" (giving away possessions, in bare buttocks, on a stone). In Rome, the "scandal stone" was a boulder near the Capitol. But there are many throughout Italy, also in later periods. In Florence there is one in the loggia of Mercato Nuovo, a circle representing the wheel of the Carroccio, a symbol of the Florentine Republic. There the "acculata" was performed: dishonest debtors were slammed violently on it, pants down, among the jeers of those present.

Pinco Pallino (= Pinco Pallino)

Pinco Pallino, or Pinco Pallo, equivalent to "Joe Average" is a folk fantasy name by which we mean a person or entity as an example. Sometimes it takes a derogatory or ironic character: a pincopallino is any irrelevant stranger. It is often used as a synonym for someone. It has the same function as Tizio (sometimes joined to Caio and Sempronio - Dude, Dick and Harry) or Tal dei Tali (Mr so-and-so).

Piove sul bagnato (= it's raining on wet ground)

This expression comes from a prose by Giovanni Pascoli: "Piove sul bagnato: lagrime su sangue, sangue su lagrime" (= It's raining on wetness: tears on blood, blood on tears). The expression became popular, and since then has entered into common usage.

Piove, governo ladro! (= It's raining, the government's a thief)

The phrase is used for those who give their government the fault of everything that happens, and has a historical background: In 1861, Giuseppe Mazzini had organized a big demonstration, but on the appointed day, it rained so much that the event was recalled. In a satirical cartoon in the periodical "Il Pasquino" a cartoon was then published depicting three Mazzini followers sheltering from the rain. The caption of the cartoon was exactly "Piove, governo ladro"!

Piovere dal cielo (= raining from heaven)

The phrase refers to something that comes in abundance and unexpected, and has a biblical origin. Yahweh, to help his chosen people during a famine, sent manna down from heaven to feed them.

Pollice verso (= thumb down ()

With the meaning of condemning, "Pollice verso" (thumbs down) refers to a Latin custom during gladiator fights, when the crowds made a hand gesture to decide the fate of a defeated gladiator. The opposite was "pollice recto" (thumbs up) which is today a very common gesture of appreciation, used also in social network

pozzo di San Patrizio (= St. Patrick's well)

The expression indicates something that cannot be filled or exhausted. It was once believed that in the well of San Patrizio in Orvieto there was always plenty of water because of its unimaginable depth.

Prendere in castagna (= to catch on a chestnut)

This is an ancient phrase that means to surprise someone while making an error. The date and place of origin are not certain, though it may derive from the late Latin term "marro" which meant "error" and also the color "marrone" (=brown) equivalent of chestnut. Actually, there is a variety of big chestnuts called "marroni", an expression that has also acquired a metaphorical slang value in current Northern Italian speech.

Prendere lucciole per lanterne (= mistake fireflies for lanters)

This expression refers to the fact that fireflies and lanterns both give light, but very different have features. It is therefore almost impossible to mistake them, despite the darkness of the night.

Prendere un granchio (= to catch a crab)

It means to misunderstand, take a blunder. Probably comes from the fact that if a crab grabs the hook, the angler is under the illusion that he has caught some big fish and withdraws the line, but only to ascertain the error, disappointed.

Prima donne e bambini (= women and children first)

The phrase indicates a protocol, a social norm, practice or historical custom common in seafaring or chivalrous societies, where women and children should be saved first in a life-threatening situation (as abandoning ship).