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Italian expression of the day: 'In gamba'

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Italian expression of the day: 'In gamba'
Photo: DepositPhotos
16:03 CET+01:00
No doubt you're capable of mastering this phrase.

What would you think if someone told you that you were "on legs"? 

You're might think they're stating the obvious, but if it happens to you in Italy, it's a compliment. And your interlocutor doesn't just like your proportions: in fact, they're showing they appreciate a lot more about you than your looks.

In gamba has little to do with your actual legs and everything to do with what they represent. Think about it: your legs allow you to get around, to run, to jump – and so, in Italian, they've come to stand in for strength, energy and ability. 

So if you say someone is in gamba, you might mean they're fit and raring to go.

Oggi mi sento proprio in gamba.
I feel really on form today.

But the phrase doesn't just apply to physical fitness. More often it refers to figurative strength: in gamba usually means 'capable', 'smart' or 'determined'. Picture someone standing firm standing on their own two feet (or legs). 

È una ragazza in gamba.
She's a smart girl.

Abbiamo un professore molto in gamba.
We've got a really good teacher.

Sei una persona in gamba.
You're a capable person.

The opposite can also be true, of course: essere male in gamba ('to be bad on your legs') means being weak, frail or in bad shape, though it's an old-fashioned way of saying it that you won't hear much today.

And you can rimettersi in gamba ('get back on your legs') if you recover from an illness or setback. It's really not so different to the English expression 'get back on your feet' – just a little higher up. 

If you know someone who's struggling to stand right, we suggest you tell them "In gamba!": you can use the phrase as a kind of bid to wish someone good form.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.

 
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