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Italian expression of the day: ‘Non vedo l’ora’

We bet you can't wait to start using this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Non vedo l'ora'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you were to ask an Italian out on a date, they might respond with today’s expression: non vedo l’ora

But, since this literally translates as “I can’t see the time”, you might understandably think you’d just been turned down with an excuse about a busy schedule.

This is when it really pays to know your Italian idioms, since this phrase actually means “I can’t wait” or “I’m looking forward to it.”

As in, you’re just so excited about this future event that you can’t even “see”, or imagine, the time coming.

Isn’t that a bit more romantic than the impatient English “I can’t wait”?

The amorous Italian you met on your last trip to Italy, now separated from you by thousands of miles of ocean, is likely to send messages along the lines of:

– non vedo l’ora di rivederti amore mio

– I can’t wait to see you again my love

They don’t call it the language of love for nothing.

But, obviously, the phrase is also used all the time in all sorts of situations; some of them markedly less romantic.

Some other useful phrases might be:

– non vedo l’ora di finire il lavoro

– I can’t wait to finish work

– Non vedo l’ora di incontrare i miei nuovi colleghi

– I’m looking forward to meeting my new colleagues.

The second example might sound a little off to English speakers. While there’s a different between “I can’t wait” and “I’m looking forward to it” (the former would imply more yearning or excitement) Italians just use the same phrase for both.

So for English speakers, using non vedo l’ora when you want to politely express that you’re “quite looking forward to” getting started on a work project might feel a bit much. But really, it’s fine.

To use this phrase in any situation, you can simply add on verbs in the infinitive, just like in English.

Don’t forget that, In Italian, ora can be used to mean  both ‘hour and ‘time’, as well as “now”

Some examples:

– che ora è?

– what time is it?

– è ora di andare

– It’s time to go

– Stiamo mangiando proprio ora

– We’re eating right now

And now you know exactly how to tell people how excited you are about your next visit to Italy:

Non vedo l’ora di tornare in Italia!

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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Italian expression of the day: ‘A quattro palmenti’

The phrase you'll need to describe a true staple of Italian summer.

Italian expression of the day: ‘A quattro palmenti’

If you’re lucky enough to be spending your summer holidays somewhere in Italy, don’t kid yourself: there’s going to be a lot of eating – or overeating – involved.

Today’s expression might at least help you describe it.

Mangiare a quattro palmenti’ is a popular expression used to describe the act of eating in a particularly fast and greedy manner.

Just think of the way all diets and semblances of self-constraint are generally dashed out of the window as soon as a plate of hot panzerotti is placed at the centre of the table.

The phrase could be considered the Italian equivalent of English expressions of the likes of ‘wolfing down’, ‘scoffing’, ‘gobbling’, ‘scarfing down’ and so on.

Oh, Luca, puoi per una volta provare a non mangiare a quattro palmenti?

Scusa, avevo tanta fame.

Oh, Luca, can you please try not to wolf down [all of your food] for a change?

Sorry, I was hungry.

Le sfogliatelle che fa mia nonna sono buone da morire. Le mangio a quattro palmenti ogni volta che le cucina.

My grandma’s sfogliatelle are to die for. I scarf them down every single time she makes them.  

But, while the action may be familiar to almost anyone, the idiom’s literal translation is likely to be tough for Italian learners to crack.

In fact, the word ‘palmenti’, which is the plural of ‘palmento’, isn’t used in any social context other than the one mentioned above and it would be practically impossible to glean its meaning by simply analysing the structure of the noun.

So, what is a ‘palmento’? Though the word might remind you of palm trees (‘palme’ in Italian) or the palms of one’s hands (‘palmi’), it’s got nothing to do with either.

A ‘palmento’ is one of the two fundamental elements allowing for the correct functioning of a water mill, namely the millstone – naturally, the other one is the water wheel. 

A millstone’s main job is that of rotating on a stationary base so as to grind and crush wheat or other grains, thus producing flour. Does that remind you of something?

Living up to their repuation as highly imaginative people, at the start of last century, but possibly even before then, Italian speakers started associating the laborious grinding of millstones to the chewing motions of human jaws and the expression ‘a quattro palmenti’ (‘with four millstones’) became a way to describe people greedily chomping on their food.

It isn’t quite clear why exactly four ‘palmenti’ were used here, though the number must have been seen as exaggerated and hyperbolic. 

Hai veramente intenzione di mangiare tutto quello che c’è a tavola a quattro palmenti?

Si, quello era il piano…

Are you really going to scoff everything that’s on the table?

Yeah, that was my plan…

The expression ‘mangiare a due palmenti’ also exists, though it’s hardly ever used nowadays, so feel free to stick with the ‘four-millstone’ version.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.