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Italian expression of the day: ‘Alla frutta’

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Italian expression of the day: ‘Alla frutta’
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Learning this phrase will no doubt prove fruitful.

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If you're a fan of fruity pastries and desserts, you may have already come across the expression alla frutta in an Italian cookbook or, perhaps, directly at an Italian pasticceria (pastry shop). 

Think, for example, of a crostata alla frutta (fruit tart) or a mousse alla frutta (fruit mousse).

But while alla frutta simply means ‘fruit-based’ or ‘fruit-flavoured’ in that context, what do Italians mean when they claim to be ‘at the fruit’?

Alla frutta is one of the most popular food-related idioms in Italian, and it is generally used to express any situation where you have no energy (either mental or physical), patience or hope left to carry on doing something. 

The idiom has no direct equivalent in English, but is usually translated using expressions such as ‘on my last legs’, ‘at the end of my rope’ or ‘at the end of the line’, or adjectives like ‘hopeless’ or ‘done for’. 

You can use it to say that you’re physically exhausted…

Forza. Abbiamo solo tre chilometri da fare. 

Scusami. Sono alla frutta. Mi devo fermare qua.

Come on. We only have three kilometres left to go.

Sorry. I’m on my last legs. I need to stop here.

Or to say that you have no patience left to deal with insufferable family members or friends.

La pigrizia di mio marito mi sta facendo impazzire. Sono veramente alla frutta. 

My husband’s laziness is driving me crazy. I’m really at the end of my rope. 

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You may also hear Italians use alla frutta to refer to a poorly-performing sports team or a political party that’s not doing so well.

La Juventus e’ veramente alla frutta. Hanno fatto solo 3 punti nelle ultime dieci giornate.

Juventus are really hopeless. They’ve only gained 3 points in the last ten matches.

Senza la leadership di Berlusconi, Forza Italia e’ un partito alla frutta. 

Without Berlusconi’s leadership, Forza Italia is at the end of the line as a party.

Now that you have an idea of how to use the expression, you may wonder where it comes from.

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Well, according to traditional Italian dining etiquette, fruit is the last course of a meal, meaning that there’s nothing left to eat after it. 

As such, being ‘at the fruit’ means reaching a stage where no further progress is possible and the only available option is to stop.

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