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I always wondered why my mom was a teacher.
Why would you subject yourself to the torture of teaching a rowdy gang of snotty, rambunctious, out-of-control kids?
But when I lived in Italy, I had the wonderful opportunity of volunteering with a couple different schools and teaching English. I taught preschoolers my first semester, and kindergartners, fourth and fifth graders my second semester.
They were rowdy, snotty, rambunctious and out of control. But I loved every minute of it.
Teaching them was not only a great way for me to practice my basic Italian (for translational purposes), it immersed me in another aspect of Italian culture. Italian schools are crazy. But the kids were really excited to learn. And that made me excited to teach (and learn in the process.)
One of my favorite lessons (and one the kids seemed to REALLY enjoy) was about the parts of the body. The kids gathered nervously in a circle as I taught them the lyrics to “head, shoulders, knees and toes.” To my surprise, they had their own Italian version of the same song. The lyrics are as follows:
Testa, spalle, gambe, pié (gambe, pié)
Naso, bocca, occhi, orecchie
Testa, spalle, gambe, pié (gambe, pié)
Anything that has a song involved is incredibly fun to learn. Plus, it’s really helpful to know the parts of your body in case you have to go to the doctor and tell them something is wrong with your mano sinistra or your pancia.
So, without further ado, here are the main parts of the body you may need to know some day.
Photo credit: Sarah Hernández
And here are some things that wouldn’t fit on the diagram.
– Le labbra – Lips
– Il gomito – Elbow
– Le anche – Hips
– La caviglia – Ankle
– Le sopracciglia – Eyebrows
– Le ciglia – Eyelashes
– I denti – Teeth
– L’unghia – Fingernail
– La lingua – Tongue
– Il polso – Wrist
– La vita – Waist (or il giro vita, but this is less commonly used)
– Il seno – Breast
Some things to keep in mind
The parts of the body in Italian get a little funky when they become plural.
– Un orecchio becomes le orecchie
– Il braccio becomes le braccia
– Il dito becomes le dita
– Il ginocchio becomes le ginocchia
This is a case of some of the oddball exceptions of the Italian language. The best way to learn them is simply to practice them a lot!
So now, you can not only tell a doctor what’s wrong with you or identify your eyelashes if someone asks you what they’re called, you can understand some of Italy’s weird body part idioms.
– Costare un occhio della testa – Literally means to cost an eye out of the head, but is equivalent to English’s ‘to cost an arm and a leg.’
> Questo vino costa un occhio della testa! – This wine costs an eye out of the head!
– Avere le mani bucate – Means to have pierced hands. This is used for people who just can’t seem to stop spending their money, probably because they have holes in their hands through which it slips. (Like me.)
> Non ho mai soldi, perché ho le mani bucate. – I never have money, because I have pierced hands.
– Avere buon naso – To have a good nose, or, figuratively, to know the score.
> Luca ha un buon naso. – Luca knows the score.
– Aver fegato – To have a liver, or to be really brave.
> La principessa ha salvato la città; lei sì che ha delfegato! – The princess has rescued the town; she’s really brave!
– Avere un piede nella fossa – To have one foot in the grave, which is pretty much the same as the American saying.
> Quello ragazzo ha un piede nella fossa. – That guy has one foot in the grave.
– Guardarsi le spalle – To watch one’s shoulders (or to watch your back)
> Ti sto avvertendo, guardati le spalle! – I’m warning you, watch your back!
– Essere in gamba – To be in leg, literally. What it means that someone is a really great, upstanding person.
> Lei mi ha sempre aiutato, è veramente una persona in gamba. – She’s always helped me, she’s really a good person.
– Il sangue nel cervello – Blood in the brain. This is used to describe that someone is becoming angry. Very angry.
> Quando guido, mi va il sangue al cervello. – When I drive, I get really angry.
– Non fare il passo più lungo della gamba. – Don’t make your step longer than your leg. Basically, don’t take on more than you can handle.
> Francesca, non fare il passo più lungo della gamba! – Francesca, don’t make your step longer than your leg!
– Avere peli sulla lingua – To have hairs on the tongue. To not speak frankly.
> Lui ha sempre peli sulla lingua, magari mi dicesse cosa sente! – He never speaks frankly, I wish he would just tell me what he feels!
– Farsi le ossa – To make the bones. Meaning to work your way up or to go through difficult things to reach a certain place in life.
> Devo farmi le ossa – I need to make my bones.
– Avere occhi per qualcuno. – To have eyes for someone. Meaning to give attention always and/or only to someone.
> Ha occhi solo per Susanna. – He gives attention only to Susanna.
– Alzarsi con il piede sbagliato – To get up with the wrong foot. Meaning to feel irritated, cranky.
> Il capo stamattina si è alzato con il piede sbagliato: non fa altro che dare ordini a tutti. – The chief today got up with the wrong foot: he keeps on giving orders to everyone.
– Da capo a piedi – From top to bottom.
> È saltato in una pozzanghera e si è infangato da capo a piedi. – He jumped in a puddle and he was covered with mud from top to bottom.
– Tenere il piede in due scarpe – To keep one foot in two shoes. Meaning to do two things at the same time – usually it is used for someone who cheats on their partner with another person.
> Francesco usciva sia con Laura che Luisa contemporaneamente: teneva il piede in due scarpe. Era ovvio a tutti che prima o poi una delle due l’avrebbe scoperto – Francesco was dating both Laura and Luisa at the same time: he was keeping his foot in two shoes. It was obvious to everyone that sooner or later one of the two ladies would find out.
You can use this list and “aver fegato” to perform “Testa, spalle, gambe, pié” in front of your friends, family or language partner.
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!