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Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare le scarpe’

Italian expression of the day farti le scarpe
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Steer clear of anyone who seems a little too interested in your shoes.

You might think that someone wanting to farti le scarpe – literally, ‘make shoes for/to you’ – would be a nice thing.

But with this saying the opposite is true: if you hear on the grapevine that someone wants to farti le scarpe, you should be on your guard.

To fare le scarpe a qualcuno (‘make/do the shoes for/to someone’) is to manoeuvre to take them down, usually so you can steal their position.

Mi sa che voglia farti le scarpe.
It seems to me like he wants to stage a coup.

Fabrizio ci ha fatto le scarpe.
Fabrizio threw us under the bus.

Sono stufo di colleghi che cercano di farmi le scarpe.
I’m tired of my colleagues trying to take me down.

It’s typically used in the context of work, and implies that you’ve befriended a colleague (usually a superior) solely for the purpose of betraying them so you can take their place.

Where exactly does the phrase come from? There’s a range of theories on the subject.

The most popular one is that it refers to eliminating your rival so you can ‘step into their shoes’, so to speak.

Shoe Fits GIF - Shoe Fits Shoe Fits GIFs

We often use shoes as a metaphor for what it’s like to be in a person’s situation (think: ‘I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes’ and ‘try walking a mile in his shoes’), so it makes sense to use shoe imagery in this way.

A more morbid theory is that it comes from custom of placing shoes on the dead before burying them, which took off in the 17th century.

While this may not be unusual in this day and age, at the time it was only done with people of a certain rank, as shoes were expensive. In this interpretation, you have shoes made for your enemy (who is in a higher station than you) because you’re plotting their metaphorical murder.

Another equally morbid theory imagines the opposite – that you’re removing the shoes from the corpse of your enemy after you’ve offed them.

Finally, there’s the legend of a certain Fra Malgioglio, a murderous friar, who’s said to have offered a pair of shoes to his impoverished young disciples before stabbing them to death with a sabre. 

Dark.

Make sure not to confuse the phrase with fare la scarpetta – a perfectly benign activity that doesn’t involve anyone’s metaphorical assassination.

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


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