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Italian expression of the day: ‘Mi va’

Don't you fancy getting to grips with this casual phrase?

Italian expression of the day: 'Mi va'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

You’re probably already familiar with the Italian verb volere, to want.

-voglio/vorrei un caffe

-I want/I would like a coffee

But there are a few ways to tell people what you want (or don’t want) in Italian, and one you’ll hear used in informal situations is mi va.

The literal translation is “it goes to me”, but what it really means is “I feel like” or “I fancy”.

You’d normally use it when the mood strikes you, rather than when describing carefully thought-out plans.

-Mi va di mangiare una pizza

-I feel like eating a pizza

Or, if you change the pronoun, you can use it to suggest things to others:

-Ti va di prendere un caffè? 

-Do you fancy getting a coffee?

When used like that, it’s a more informal version of ti andrebbe.

It’s more common however to hear people use the negative form of mi va. For example:

-Non mi va di cucinare stasera

-I don’t feel like cooking this evening

– Non so se mi va di uscire

-I don’t know if I fancy going out

You can also use it as a casual way of saying you don’t want something. For example, to get rid of a pushy street vendor, a simple “allora, non mi va” would work.

You might also hear mi va used in phrases like:

-Posso fare quello che mi va

-I can do what I want

Try not to get it mixed up with mi sa, which means “it seems to me”, or ma va’, which means “No way!” or “Yeah right!”.

Mi va means much the same as ho voglia di (literally: “I have want of”, meaning “I feel like”.)

-Ho voglia di andare al centro stasera

-I feel like going into the centre this evening

So next time you need to tell someone what you want, you can use whichever phrase you feel like.

Do you have a favourite 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.