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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Fa un freddo cane’

Here's an idiomatic phrase to get you through the winter in Italy.

Italian expression of the day: 'Fa un freddo cane'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you’ve only ever visited Italy in summer before, it can be quite a shock to find out just how cold it can get here in the winter months.

When the cold is really biting, simply saying fa freddo (it’s cold) doesn’t feel like enough.

Today’s expression is used in spoken Italian on those freezing cold days.

– Fa un freddo cane!

– it’s freezing cold!

The phrase literally translates as “It makes a cold dog”, which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. It really means something more like “it’s dog cold!”

You might already know that instead of using the verb essere (to be), Italian uses fare (to do or make) when talking about the temperature. So the phrase fa freddo literally translates as ‘it makes cold’ rather than ‘it is cold’. Same with fa caldo (it’s hot).

But what have dogs got to do with it?

Much like with the English phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs”, clearly no household pets are involved. The ‘dog’ is used here as an intensifier; a (polite) way of emphasising how awfully cold it is. 

Similarly, the French would say Il fait un froid de canard! (It’s duck cold!)

You might also hear the variation fa un freddo da cani.

It means exactly the same thing, but uses the plural cani (dogs).

Other ways to comment on the low temperature in Italian include:

– “fa freddissimo!”

– It’s very cold

– si gela
– It’s freezing (literally “one freezes”)
 
– si muore di freddo
– It’s terribly cold (literally “one dies of cold”)
 
Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Avere un diavolo per capello’

No need to blow your top about this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Avere un diavolo per capello'

At one point or another, we’ve all had un diavolo per capello – ‘a devil by the hair’.

This isn’t a devil on your shoulder – the little voice encouraging you do so something bad or mischievous.

The demon is this phrase isn’t devious but seething, making the person whose locks it is clutching furious, enraged, or extremely irritable.

State attenti alla signora Russo, ha un diavolo per capello stamattina. 
Watch out for Mrs. Russo, she’s in a foul mood this morning.

Ha abbandonato la riunione con un diavolo per capello.
He walked out of the meeting in a fury.

You might picture someone tearing their hair out in rage, or a furious djinn perched on someone’s head directing their movements.

Angry Inside Out GIF by Disney Pixar

Another common Italian expression involving the devil is fare il diavolo a quattro.

This phrase can mean any of raising hell – either by causing a ruckus or kicking up a fuss – or going to great lengths to get something.

Ha fatto il diavolo a quattro quando le hanno detto che l’orario di visita era finito e non l’hanno fatta entrare.
She screamed blue murder when they told her visiting hours were over and wouldn’t let her in.

Ho fatto il diavolo a quattro per ottenere quel permesso.
I fought like hell to get that permit.

It’s unclear quite how a phrase which literally translates as something along the lines of ‘doing the devil by four’ came to have its current meaning – according to the Treccani dictionary, there are a couple of explanations.

One is that in some profane medieval art that involved religious imagery, the devil was often depicted along with the number four.

Another is that when the devil was represented on stage, he had so many different guises that four actors were required to play him in order to avoid having too long a time between costume changes.

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

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