In this column, author Adam Jacot de Boinod explores the weird and wonderful world of German and Italian vocabulary, and discovers some rather interesting terms. Let us take a look at what he has found.

In English, we can be green with envy, see red, or feel a bit blue. Colours also have a strong symbolic force in German idioms:

eine weiße Weste haben: to be innocent (literally, to have a white vest)
Halbgötter in weiß: physicians(literally, demigods in white)
hier steht es schwarz auf weiß: it’s in writing, it’s official (literally, it’s here in black and white)
warten bis man schwarz wird: to wait a very long time (literally, to wait until you become black)
gelb vor Neid: envious (literally, yellow with envy)
gelb vor Eifersucht warden: to become yellow with jealousy
das Gelbe vom Ei: a good thing (literally, the yellow of the egg)
eine braune Gesinnung haben: to have an extreme right-wing political point of view (literally, to have a brown disposition)
eine weiße Maus sehen: to see something rare (literally, to see a white mouse)
ein graues Mäuschen: someone unattractive or uninteresting (literally, a grey mouse)
einen Silberblick haben: to be squint-eyed (literally, to have a silver gaze)

Italian is highly imaginative in its adoption of phrases from their literal definition to be given a whole new metaphorical sense:

ha sale in zucca: he has common sense (literally, he’s got salt in the pumpkin)
come il cacio sui maccheroni: perfect (literally, like cheese on pasta)
campanilismo: local pride, attachment to the vicinity (literally, bell tower-ism: referring to the fact that people do not want to travel so far as to be out of the bell-tower’s sight)
cerone: excessive make-up applied on one’s face (literally, grease paint)
padella: the oily stain on clothes (literally, a frying pan)
cavoli riscaldati: an attempt to revive a lapsed love affair (literally, reheated cabbage)
bustarella: a cash bribe (literally, a little envelope)
squadretta: a group of prison guards who specialise in beating up inmates (literally, a small squad)

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of the BBC panel game QI for Stephen Fry. He is a British author having written three books about unusual words with Penguin Press.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.’

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