Italian expression of the day: ‘Pesce d’aprile’

Italian expression of the day: 'Pesce d’aprile'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
We're all being careful not to fall for any April Fool's jokes today - and there's no escape from the pranksters' favourite day of the year in Italy. Here, it just has a cuter name: 'April fish'.

I imagined that il pesce d’aprile, or ‘April fish’, came from the idea of ‘baiting’ people or ‘fishing’ for responses with joke articles or announcements and seeing if they’d ‘bite’.

After all, the Italian verb abboccare means ‘to bite, or to take the bait’ and figuratively it also means ‘to be fooled, deceived, or taken in’, just like in English. It’s rooted in the word bocca, or mouth.

Ha abboccato e non ha avuto alcun sospetto!
He fell for it and had no idea!

But no. I’m told the name actually comes from a common prank that involves sticking a drawing of a pesciolino (‘little fish’) onto the back of an unsuspecting victim. Then everyone else asks if they’ve seen “April’s fish” and makes jokes about that person – when, of course, the victim doesn’t know it’s them.

– L’hai visto? (Have you seen him/her?)
– Chi? (Who?)
– Il pesce d’Aprile! (The April fish!)


Photo: Depositphotos

Although this tradition seems pretty quaint, taping a fish onto someone’s back is still something people – most likely children – do in Italy today.

And Italy isn’t the only country to have a fishy April Fool’s Day. In France and French-speaking areas of Belgium, Switzerland and Canada, it’s the poisson d’avril.

It’s not clear where the custom comes from: there are a few different theories, ranging from Christian traditions around eating (or avoiding) fish on certain holy days to the idea that fishermen who returned to port without a catch at this time of year might have been the object of mockery. 

No one knows for sure. But if you’re in Italy today and someone tries to wind you up (or tape a fish to your back) you could say:

non mi prendi in giro

You don’t fool me

Io non ci credo mica.
I don’t believe that at all.

While you’re right to be sceptical of everything you read today, I promise I’m not making this whole “fish” thing up in the spirit of April Fool’s.

See our complete Word of the Day archive here.

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