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

There's no escape from the pranksters' favourite day of the year in Italy. Here, it just has a cuter name: 'April's fish'.

Italian expression of the day: 'Pesce d’aprile'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

While you’re right to be sceptical of everything you read at this time of year, I promise today’s Italian expression isn’t made up.

I imagined that il pesce d’aprile, or ‘April’s 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 ‘pesce d’aprile 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 they’re ‘it’.

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

It sounds a bit quaint, but taping a fish onto someone’s back is still something people – most likely children – do in Italy nowadays

Photo: Depositphotos

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 someone tries to wind you up – or tape a fish to your back – in Italy tomorrow, be prepared.

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.

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.

See our complete Word of the Day archive here.

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

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare una filippica’

When your best Italian mate is giving you an earful for being a couple of minutes late, tell him to quit the ‘philippic’.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare una filippica’

As far as idioms go, fare una filippica is one of the most popular ones used in Italian television and print media. Presenters and journalists use it every day as a way to give colour and panache to their reports.

But what is a filippica (literally, ‘philippic’ in English) and, above all, what does it mean to make one?

In Italian, the word filippica is generally used to describe a very impassioned invective: a tongue-lashing, if you will, aimed at a political adversary or any other opponent.

So fare una filippica means having a go at someone, and in a rather ferocious and hostile way.

Let’s have a look at some examples:

Il capo dell’opposizione ha fatto una filippica contro l’immobilità del governo nei confronti delle famiglie a basso reddito.

The head of the opposition harshly criticised the government’s inertia towards low-income families.


L’allenatore ha fatto una filippica contro i tifosi della squadra ospite per il loro comportamento sugli spalti.

The coach condemned the away side’s fans for their behaviour on the stands.

As you can see, on most occasions, the expression is followed by contro (‘against’) plus the person or people the invective is directed at. 

As previously mentioned, the expression is widely used in broadcast and print media. However, it is also frequently used in colloquial Italian as a way to mock someone who is being overly dramatic or getting unreasonably upset about trivial matters.

For instance:

Sei sempre in ritardo. Sei insopportabile.
Sono solo due minuti. Non farmi una filippica…

You’re always late. You’re insufferable.
It’s just a couple of minutes. Don’t you dare have a go at me…

So, now that you have a basic grasp of how (and when) to use the idiom, you may also be interested in knowing where it comes from. 

Like most Italian idioms, fare una filippica originated in the classical age.

Notably the expression dates back to 351 BC, when the independence of Athens, the richest and most technologically advanced city-state in ancient Greece, was being threatened by the expansionist designs of Philip II, king of Macedon.

Being conscious of the risks Macedon posed to his city’s autonomy, Athenian intellectual and statesman Demosthenes famously gave a number of fervid political speeches aimed at rallying his fellow citizens against Philip II and calling for a mobilisation of Athens’ military forces.

Such orations, whose eloquence and rhetoric are admired to this very day, were known as ‘philippics’ (‘filippiche’ in Italian), hence the very peculiar expression which, through the centuries, has made it all the way into modern Italian.

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