Neapolitans proverbs, sayings and aphorisms

Published February 5, 2011 by Tony

There are many books and collection of Neapolitan proverbs around because they really are numerous with some very old and by now dismissed. Young people even don’t know them and commonly only few are mentioned sometimes. Older persons usually have recourse to them during their speech as a sign of wisdom and because a short aphorisms often is worth more than ten words. Me too don’t know any proverb and while some of them are easy to understand – just trying to realize what it would intend – the oldest one often are incomprehensible specially when using ancient and disused terms. In this short post I only will mention – in an alphabet order – the most common proverbs and saying, specially the one still utilized nowadays.

Near the proverb you find the literal translation also if it sometimes will look senseless but I preferred to translate the original words (whereas possible) just to let you sense the genuine roots.

<‘A bona campana se sente ‘a luntano> (The good bell is heard in the distance).  In general, it means that the good things always shows themselves or are visible.

<‘A capa ‘e sotto fa perdere ‘a capa ‘e coppa> (The underneath “head” loses touch with the top one)  It is a way to mean that the sexual instinct brings to irrationality.

<‘A carne ‘a sotto e ‘e maccarune ‘ncoppa> (Meat goes underneath and macaroni on the top).  A way to say when someone is wrong and who is right seems, on the contrary, to be wrong. As to specify that something is turning upside down because usually sauce and meat are on the top, just on the macaroni and not the contrary.

<A buono ‘ntennitòre poche parole> similar to: “a nod is as good as a wink (to a blind horse), a word to the wise”.  We mean that sometimes it needs few words to let someone understand our thought specially if he is clever and keen.

<‘A carta vicino ‘o fuoco s’appiccia> (Paper close to the fire will burn).  It is used to affirm that some accident didn’t happen by chance because it was predictable, just as it’s predictable that a paper burns near the fire. As to say “you brought it on yourself” also this proverb is used to warn somebody just to avoid the mistake.

< A cavallo rialàto nun se guarda ‘mmòcca> (The mouth of a horse got as gift mustn’t be checked).  This is an old rural saying when horses were common and important animals and their tooth showed their state of health. The saying means that every gift, even if modest, has an intrinsic value and should be well accepted and appreciated.

<‘A cervella è ‘na sfoglia ‘e cipolle> (The brain is the peel of the onion).  Human mind is delicate and flaky as the external peel of the onion. A way to say that somebody can go mad easily. A very popular and common saying.

<Accìde cchiù ‘a lengua ca ‘a spata> (Tongue kills more than sword).  It has to be interpreted as “backbiting is more terrible (or hurting) than weapons”. In fact, calumny or gossip often is so harmful to kill someone – symbolically-

<A chiàgnere ‘o muorto so’ làcreme pèrze> (Crying for a dead person gives useless tears).  Who is dead is dead and the tears are vain. It isn’t a disrespectful thought because is – alas- a reality and we only use it when a behavior or act – in progress – is useless, hopeless or unnecessary.

<Acqua cheta fà pantano e feta> (Stagnating water becomes quagmire and stink).  It is a symbolical way to mean that we shouldn’t trust in quiet people – or who seems to be too calm – especially in the case they have been peeved. As the bog bothers – even if motionless – in the same way the apathetic person could become a nuisance, lying beneath….

<‘A cunferenza è padrona da mala crianza> (Too familiarity is the mistress of bad manner).  It means that too intimacy between two persons often brings one of the two friends or acquaintance to become too disrespectful towards the other. A wise saying that let understand Neapolitan’s mind but, people asking for more or taking advantage of some occasion are all over!

<Addò c’è gusto nun c’è perdenza> (Whereas there is satisfaction there is no loss).
We are disposed to do anything just to get what we want and give us fulfillment – independently if it is expensive, laborious or gains no consent of other people. For example, we usually use this saying when a person flirts with someone that isn’t in our good books or so good-looking.

<‘A famma fa ascì ‘o lupo do’ bosco> (Hunger brings wolf to come out from wood).
The need can induce men to carry out bad actions. A way to give explanation for some cheat that a poor or off-mind person does out of necessity.

<‘A gallina fa ll’ove, e a’ ‘o gallo l’abbruccia ‘o culo> (The hen makes the egg and to the cock the ass becomes sore)  Just a fun proverb meaning that often somebody complains towards who did something, a work usually, also if he/she lent no hand. Quite permeating also if used in any comparable circumstances.

<‘A jatta, pe’ ghì ‘e pressa, facette ‘e figlie cecate> (The cat being in a hurry gave birth to blind kittens).  A way to highlight that the haste overall isn’t a good counsellor, bringing to do ill-considered acts.

<A lavà ‘a capa ‘o ciuccio se perde acqua e sapone> (Trying to wash the donkey’s head brings to waste water and soap).   Here the mule personifies an ignorant and stubborn person while water and soap another metaphor for advices and discussion. It’s just a waste of time and breath when we try to change an ignorant/stubborn person’s mind. As mule doesn’t like head-rubbing down and is pigheaded as ignorant/stubborn people don’t are inclined to be reasonable.

<’A lusinga ‘e nu sullievo> or <‘A lusinga fa ‘bbene a salute> (Flattery is a relief) or (Flattery is healthy).   The self-esteem often helps who doesn’t feel sure. It is used mainly in a deprecating way and towards who flaunts around his/her (untrue) virtues. A common said.

<A murì e a pavà nce sta sempe tempo> (There is time for dying and paying).  ‘To die’ and ‘to pay’ just should be the last things to do. Usually we say so when have to pay for something and friendly postpone the payment but, it can be used on similar occurrence too.

<Arbere e figlie se raddrizzano solo quando so’ piccerille> (Trees and offspring can be straightened up only when little).  It is clear… as it’s possible to shape a young tree in the same way it is easy to improve a person when is young.

<A Santa Chiara dopp’arrubbato mettèttero ‘e porte ‘e fierro> (Saint Claire put iron door after the robbery).  It refers to Santa Chiara Basilica in Naples that, in the past, after a theft installed an iron door for safety. So, it comes mentioned anytime it is made provisions for the future after some bad thing happened. As to highlight ironically that it’s too late or that the remedy had to be taken in advance.

<‘A verità è figlia d’ ‘o tiempo> (The truth is son of the time).  Because only as time goes by many facts come spill out. Thus, under this point of view, the truth is interrelated with the time, as the aphorism says.

<‘A vita è comme ‘a scala do vallenaro: è corta e chiena ‘e merda> (Life is similar to a henhouse’s staircase: short and full of shit).  Just a bitter cynical consideration towards the human existence. Yea….life is short! Sometimes circumstances or events really becomes hard or painful just to be considered a… piece of shit!

< Buono sì ma fesso no> or <Cà nisciuno è fesso> (It’s okay being kind but not make a fool of me) or (Here nobody is foolish).  It’s to say that: I can be considered a good, kind or friendly subject but nobody ought to presume upon me. Nobody is or should be considered foolish.

<Càgnano ‘e musicanti, ma a museca è sempe ‘a stessa> (Musicians change but music remains the same).  This saying come used when some unpleasant situation remains unchanged also if the protagonists changed. Protagonists that evidently, had to change the situation improving it but didn’t do it.

<Chello ca nun se fa nun se sape> (Undone things cannot be discovered)  It could seem senseless or an useless assertion but call your attention to the contrary of itself, it’s to say that “anything – sooner or later – is discovered”.  See the prior proverb <‘A verità è figlia d’ ‘o tiempo>. It is a simple advice too, recommending you to keep your secrets because in general, the less said…the better.

< Chiacchiere e tabacchere ‘e lignamme ‘o Bbanco ‘e Napule nun ‘e ‘mpegna> (Naples Bank doesn’t pawn chit-chat and wooden snuffbox).  Chit-chat is an insignificant talk as verbal commitment (obligation) while wooden snuffbox is a objects of little value hence, no pawnshop will pawn them. This is a popular motto we usually use when someone takes on a commitment or undertakes to do something with no certainty or because he is an unreliable subject. As to say “to trust is good but to not trust is better” or “respect and suspect”.

<Chi addimanna nun fa errore> (He who asks isn’t wrong).  It’s to say that …at the cost to become boring it’s worth asking for a bit of information more than a time even, just to avoid any mistake and be sure.

<Chi bell’ vo paré mal’ hadda paté> (He who want to be good-looking must suffer).  Probably this saying doesn’t refer to attractive persons but who needs esthetical treatment, diet or anything else able to make better her/his aspect. Of course, this will become a suffering also under the economic aspect.

<Chi chiagne fott’ a chi rire> [He who complains about his/her (unsatisfying) situation fucks and laugh].  Sometimes people complain about their hard-luck (or current state of affairs) only to avoid envy or endear someone. ‘Fuck and laugh’ stand for the untruthful people that double-dealing then enjoying and being happy covertly.

<Chi cumanna nun suda> (He who commands doesn’t sweat).  Just a proletarian complain. Commander, leader or boss command while subordinate pragmatically must carry out. Thus, ironically it’s the subordinate to swear!

<Chi è cchiù bell’e te se trucca!> [Person more attractive than you (have to) put up on makeup!].   A way to tease someone who affirms to be good-looking or is lingering in toilette.  As to say: ‘come on, you are okay…. don’t worry’.

<Chi fraveca e sfraveca nun perde mai tiempo> (He who makes and unmakes waste no time).  He who makes a mistake then has to do all over again but, optimistically the result could be much better. Just a consolatory spur to start again.

<Chi nasce quatro nun more tunno> (He who is square doesn’t die round).  It’s referring to human being with its feature and behavior that don’t change during its life.  What is square can’t become round just as human feature and behavior. Usually we say this ironically when a person goes on to behave as his/her usual.

< Chi nunn’ accatta e nun venne nun saglie e nun scenne> (He who doesn’t buy and doesn’t sell then doesn’t go up and doesn’t go down).  A sort of commercial saying like “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.  He who doesn’t trade (buy/sell) will not improve, also if this motto can be used as a metaphor in any different events.

<Chi nun sta ‘a sentì mamme e pate va ‘a firnì addò nunn’è nato> (He who doesn’t listen to mum and dad goes where he/she isn’t born).  Just an universal truth!  Children (but adolescents too) often don’t listen to parents or don’t take their advices doing the wrong choices. “…going where he/she isn’t born” just refers to the bad-choice that then brings them in a pickle. This saying is grounded on the matter of fact that any parent loves own children and always shows them the right way, of course.

< Chi pecora se fa’ ‘o lupo s’ ‘a magna> (Who act as a sheep the wolf eats him/her).  Who is coward will be subdued by bold people or who is shy will be subdued by cheeky people.

<Chi tarde arriva male alloggia” (He who is late will stay uncomfortable).  Another piece of wisdom. It often happens that being late we have to make do with what we found… no stand, hoof it or remnant, i.e.(!)

< Chi tene ‘a lengua va’ in Sardegna> (He who has tongue will arrive in Sardinia).  For Neapolitans once Sardinia was a far island not easy to reach while “tongue” is for “asking” so, the saying intends to say that who is able to ask (for information) can reach far places.

<Chi tene male cervella tene bone ‘e cuscetelle> or <Chi tene mala capa, tene bbon’e cosce.> (He who has a bad brain will have good legs).  High philosophy here! Which of you never forgot the keys (or something else) and had to go back to take them?! In this case you was absent-minded (bad brain!) and your legs had to make up for that (good legs!) going back. Well, this just is what this aphorism means! Often our lapse of concentration brings us to hurry back and remedy, somehow.

< Chi troppo vole niente stregne> (He who wants all will have nothing).  As to say “if you try too grab too much you will end up with nothing” so similar to “enough is as good as a feast, you can have too much of a good thing”.  Shortly we should be satisfied with what we can get.

< Chi va pe’ chisti mare chisti pisce piglia> (He who goes across this sea will take these fishes).  A metaphoric expression meaning that someone has to accept the consequences of his/her actions. She/he freely chose that “sea” (situation) and by it will get those “fishes” (results).

< Comme dicett’ ‘o pappice vicin’ ‘a noce: damme tiempo ca te spertoso> (The worm told to the walnut: give me time and I’ll pierce you).  He who perseveres will achieve his goals also if  it needs time to reach the aim.

< Cu tanta galle a cantà, nun schiara maje juorno> (Many cocks crow bring no sunrise).  Cockcrow is byword for daybreak thus, if many of them reputedly sing in a different time, we couldn’t know the exact start of the sunrise. This is a nice metaphorical way to mean that different opinions bring no solution to a problem and we mention this axiom when too many people (freely) take part in the discussion.

<Da amici e parienti nunn’accattà e nun vennere niente> (Towards relatives buy and sell nothing).  Relatives aren’t the best buyer or seller because the close relation could bring to no negotiation.  Besides, the family relationship could bar possible compliant.

<Dicette ‘o cafone: ‘na vota me fai fesso> or <’o cafone ‘o può fa fesso‘na vota sola> [The peasant (or fellowcountry) says: only a time you can make fool of me].  We learn from our mistakes. With paeasant and fellow country we want to intend good-natured or good person easily to cheat but, gaining experience will help.

< Dicette ‘o prevete: fa’ chello ca dico io ma nun fa’ chello ca facc’io> (The priest said: do what I say and not what I do).  This old proverb let understand that even in the past the cloth inspired no trust, giving bad example.  It’s the same of “not to practise what one preaches” and Neapolitans use it when someone (a leader, usually) acts differently from his address.

< ‘E ciucce s’appiccicano e ‘e varrile se scassano> (While donkeys fight the barrels bust).  A way to mean that argument and long debate is backfire. And in same case, while the argument is in progress, the damage is on or worsen.

< E ffemmene nun se sanno tené tre cicere ‘mmocca> (Women aren’t able to keep three chickpeas in their mouth).  A way to say that women in general, aren’t able to keep a secret. They are too chatterbox!

< E páriente so’ comm’e stívale, cchiù songo stritte e cchiù fanne malo> (Relatives are like boots, more they are tight and more they bother).  In this case, “tight” is for close relation and this motto is like to this one <Da amici e parienti nunn’accattà e nun vennere niente>. It means that relatives often give nuisance because feel justified in expecting.

<Faccia tosta campaje, faccia moscia murette> (Cheeky face muddles along, weak face gives up).  It’s very similar to: < Chi pecora se fa’ ‘o lupo s’ ‘a magna>, meaning that cheeky people get more possibility to achieve compared with shy ones.

<Fa ‘o scemo pe’ nu’ gghì ‘a guerr> (Pretending to be insane to avoid going to war).  During wartime men were recruited and this old proverb commonly is used nowadays to mean that someone plays the fool with the purpose to avoid some hard task.

<Fatt’ accattà ‘a chi nun t’sape> (Let -who doesn’t know you- buy yourself).  Another very common aphorism meaning that only he who gets no (close) acquaintance of another person can be deceived. It’s used when the subject is an unreliable one, of course. You have to interpret “buy yourself” as “buy your own merchandise” or better “trust in you”.

<Figlie piccerille guaie piccerille, figlie gruosse guaie gruosse> (Little sons slight troubles, old sons big troubles).  Just a reality for parents. This popular saying want to highlight that worries and troubles are correlated with son’s age. Youngsters usually give parents graver problems than younger sons.

<Giorgio se ne vò jì, e ‘o vescovo ‘o vò mannà> (George wants to go away and the bishop is chasing him away).  Difficult to understand this literal translation because referring to an ancient popular good-story about a certain merchant called Giorgio who wanted to leave the town because its business went to pot. Shortly, the fellows villagers concerned about this decision applied to the local bishop who, once got knowledge of the fact, decided Giorgio could go away freely. Today we Neapolitans use this saying when someone want to go away or stop something he is doing, while we just are looking for the same. Of course, it refers to not-welcome people or affair.

<Hê fatte trenta e mo’ faje pure trentuno.> [(If) you did thirty now (can) do thirty-one].  Between thirty and thirty-one just a little difference to mean a small amount of something. Probably, these numbers referred to the months days meaning that between a months with 30 days and another with 31 there is no big difference during the usual life. A way to mean that – once started a task we can do another little effort to be (more) successful.

< L’auciello ‘nta cajola, si nu’ ccanta p’a rraggia canta p’ammore> (Bird in the birdcage sings because angry or in love).  We supposed that in the birdcage birds sing for a ‘call note’ or because crying so, we use this motto when somebody – in a particular situation – is singing and we want to underline the (real) reason of the singing. It is linked to “cheer up you’ll get over it”, somehow.

<Lietto stritto cùcchete ‘mmiezo> (With narrow bed let you lie in the middle).  It means that there always is the possibility to arrange (set or help) yourself in someway. The bed as a metaphor means that there always is the way to make room for someone while the middle could mean that it is the best place to choose.

< Mamma e giuventù s’apprezzano quanno nun se teneno cchiù> (Mum and youth are appreciated when they went away).  I guess that there should be nothing else to add since “mother” and “youth” are the most important things we all have in our life and unluckily often we realize their importance only when miss them.

< Mazza e panella fanno ‘e figlie belle, panella senza mazza fanno ‘e figlie pazze> (Beating and loaf give good offspring, loaf without beating give foolish offspring).  We have to consider the time when such a saying came out, a period when wretchedness and large families were very common. Punishment was the rightest way to assure obedience and respect while a simple loaf as a dish. The first part of this saying today is used to mean that sons often need harshness to keep them in line.

< Morta ‘a criatura, nun simmo cchiù compare> [(Once) the child died we aren’t more godfather].   It still is  custom here to find a godparents for sons as sponsor at religious confirmation and once they even represented an important figure in the family unit. In consequence, without the child the prior link fails. Today this saying is used when in general the (close) relationship between two persons begins to vanish and the coldness comes highlighted by these words.

< Na noce dinto ‘o sacco nun fa rummore> (A walnut in the sack makes no noise)  Moving a sack with many walnuts inside the noise is evident, one instead is soundless.  This motto signifies that a person’s demand isn’t took in consideration while a peer group have more possibility to put some claim.

< Natale cu ‘e tuoje e Pasqua cu’ chi vuoje> (Christmas with your relatives and Easter with who you want).  Overall, it means that we born in our own home and (could) die where it will happen. Christmas acquires the meaning of “important event” where any relationship should be cemented and emotions and feelings become deeper while Easter instead, as a rebirth should promote new acquaintances and travels. Thus, people ought to spend Christmas time at home and (could) spend Easter time away.

< Nce stanno uòmmene, uommenicchie, uommenone e quaquaraquà> [(Around) there are men, small men and nits].  Here “men” indicates principled reliable men and people with a strong manhood too. For “small men” common men not so charismatic and with “nits ” unreliable weak men. This motto is used just to underline these differences when it happened to have to do with some “nit” specially.

< Nu buonu marito fa ‘na bbona mugliera> [A good (strong) husband gives a good wife].  It could seems an anachronistic motto but in a broadly speak it means that inside the marriage the role should be kept. Man has to represent the boss firm and also hard in his choices. In my opinion  the contrary (a good wife gives a good husband) is to value too.

< Nun sputà ‘ncielo ca ‘nfaccia te torna> (Don’t spit in the sky ‘cause it will return on your face).  It is like to “not bite the hand that feeds you.”

Nun lascià ‘a strada vecchia pa’ nova> (Don’t leave the old way for a new one).  An advice to select verified choices without venturing. Not change the sure for the unsure.

< Nun mgnà pe’ nun cacà> (Not eating for not crapping out).  A way to intend that someone doesn’t do something to avoid any risk. Not buying for not spending in money; not consuming to maintain; abstain to avoid effort… and so on.

< ‘O ccumannà è meglio d’ ‘o fottere> [Commanding (even) is better than a fuck].  See this prior one too: <Chi cumanna nun suda>. Sarcastically ‘call the shots’ is a so big satisfaction to be compared with “having sex” and from this prospective it becomes a criticism towards who likes to command.

<‘O pesce fete d’ ‘a capa> (Fish smell from its head).  Fish smells and of course smell from the top. This is a metaphor to mean that in a team – when something is not working properly – the first to be wrong or misbehave is the boss.

<‘O peggio surdo è chillo ca nun vo’ senti’> (The worst deaf is who doesn’t want to hear).   Used when someone makes believe that doesn’t hear (or listen to) then being wrong. It refers to who goes on his own way without listening other point of view or he who doesn’t follow advices.

<‘O pile ‘e fessa tira e cchiu’ d’o filo ‘e acciaro> (A pussy’s hair drags more than a steel thread).  A fun saying meaning that women (love and sex in particular) have ascendancy on men more than anything else. It is said that “It’s the sex (women) that let world to turn….” and history give us many examples about.

<‘O primme ca s’aiza cummanna> (The first to get up will command) . He who gets up early has the benefit to start (alone) the work and hence, claims to manage it then.  It is used mainly when we ironically intend to criticize who in a group starts – with no title – to command.

<‘O purpo se coce dinto all’acqua soja.> (Octopus cooks in its own juice).  Who is a chef knows this tip. Boiled octopus should cook in few water because it discharges seawater by itself during the cooking. Wise people developed this saying to mean that sometimes there is no need to waste breath with stubborn (or immature) people because they often “cooks” (realize) by themselves their mistakes then redressing.

<‘O sazio nun crede a’ ‘o diuno> (Sated people can’t understand hunger).  It is enough straightforward….. no? Who is satiated or satisfied (towards anything) can’t empathize with who is ill-fated.

<Ogne scarpa addiventa scarpone> (Any shoe becomes a bad-shoe).  The word “scarpone” has no similar words in English and the translation “bad-shoe” doesn’t render the real meaning. You have to intend “bad-shoe” as an old spoiled and used shoe. Thus, this saying means that anything – as time goes by – becomes waste but it refers mainly to human being that becomes old and decrepit.

<Ogne scarrafone è bello â mamma soja> (Any cockroach is beautiful for its mother).  An amusing saying meaning that any ugly or bad son will be love by the own mom. Mother care goes beyond….

<Pìgliate ‘o (mumento) buono quanno vene, ca ‘o malamente nun manca maje.> (Enjoy when something good arrives ‘cause bad time is never lacking).  Here the saying also is quite clear. It acts as a spur to enjoy when luck smiles at us because the bad time is round the corner!

<Pìzzeche e vase nun fanno pertose> (Nips and kisses make no holes).  If you know that “holes” is for harm, the motto becomes clear… I hope it, at least.

<Quanno ddoje se vonne, cincuciente nun ce ponne> [When two people want (love) each other, five hundred (people) can do nothing ].  “Can do nothing” in the sense to avoid it. A way to affirm that love is a very strong feeling independently who is involved in and nobody is able to change the situation.

<Quanno ‘o ciuccio nun vo’ vevere, hé voglia d’o siscà> (When the donkey doesn’t want drink useless to try).  You can see also : <A lavà ‘a capa ‘o ciuccio se perde acqua e sapone>. Donkey and mule were common animals for working in the past but well-known as obstinate animals. This saying is used when somebody is so stubborn or convinced to persist in his actions.

<Quanno ‘o diavulo t’accarezza, vo’ ll’anema> (When the devil caresses you wants your soul).  Another very common aphorism to mean that someone does something only for a precise purpose.  Just to reach his aim a person can pretend to be kind or take care of you. Or, acting in a misleading way. Therefore, to trust is good but to not trust is better.

<Quanno Pulecenella va ‘ncarrozza, tutte ‘o veden> [When Pulcinella (Punchinello) is on the coach everybody looks at him].  Pulcinella is a classical character symbolizing misery and misfortune too. Once the carriages were a prerogative of rich people so, Punchinello can’t have one. This saying wants underline that people notice easily your affluence when it happens as fellow countrymen were intrigued to see Pulcinella on the coach. This suggests envy too.

<Quanno si ‘ncudine statte, quanno si martiello vatte> (When you are anvil give up and when hammer strike).  As to say, when you’re in the position to command or getting the better of opponent then do otherwise, endure without rising up.

<Scarte frusc’ e pigl’ primmere> Impossible to translate.  It mention a poular playing card (Neapolitan cards) where “frusc” is for a card with few value while “primmere ” for a card with no value. The saying could be translate as: “I discard a card with no value and it arrives another worse even”. It is used to express discontent when in general the first attempt, choice or thing turns out to be bad and the next results worse even.

<Senza denare nun se cantano messe> [Without money no sung mass (can’t be ordered)].  Probably this proverb came out from the custom that (Catholic) mass (for defunct people, for example) can be ordered on payment (of a few sum) because salvation was important. Therefore, it means that with no money we can do nothing (even a mass for somebody’s soul).

<Senza ‘e fessi ‘e diritte nun campano> (Without foolish people clever one can’t live on).  Although a little bit outdated this motto still can be topical because around there are a lot of cunning people and cheat.

<Si nun saje fa’ ‘o scarparo nun sfottere ‘e ssemmenzelle> (If you aren’t able to do the cobbler don’t bother the tacks).  The cobbler was a noble and common work in the past and the poverty brought to repair broken (leather) shoes where the sole had to be nailed. “Bother the tacks” has to be intended as to avoid the usage of some tool we aren’t able to handle. So, this saying as a twit says to avoid any task if there is no skill or qualification.

<Storta va deritta vene, sempe storta nun po’ gghì> (A bad thing can become good, can’t always get an off day)  Difficult to find the right words to translate it here. Shortly, this saying means that we have to persevere because sooner or later things will be fine. As to say: “bad luck often brings good luck” or “the devil is not always at one door.”

<T’aggia ‘mpara’ e t’aggia perdere> (First I teach you to do and then I lose you).  Here, “teach you” assumes the meaning of teaching in general. It’s has something to do with the fate meaning that I teach you (to do) and then you do it wrong or go away even (leaving me alone).

<Uocchie ca nun vede, core ca nun chiagne> What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over.

<Vide Napule, e po’ muore> (See Naples and die).  A famous saying about Naples beauty. As to say: once you saw Naples you saw enough to die even.

<Voce ‘e popolo, voce ‘e Dio> (Folks voice, God’s voice).  A popular proverb meaning that people’s demand is justified and right as a God complaint even.

23 comments on “Neapolitans proverbs, sayings and aphorisms

  • HI

    I have just been given a proverb from a friend but I can’t get a translation and it does not appear here. Can you help?

    ‘E voglia ‘e mettere rum, chi nasce strunze nun po’ addiventa babba.

    • Hello there!
      Sure… it is a way to say used to tease someone….
      This byword literally says: “you can put all the rum you want (to soak a babà) but the one who is (born) asshole can’t become a babà”.
      You know that the “babà” needs a mix of water-rum-sugar to become so soft and sweet so…. as an ideal instance…. if it’s not a (real) babà it’s useless to waste rum.
      Like to say: – a person who is asshole can’t chance! (also if we try to make better him….), he always will be an asshole!

    • Hi Lindsay what it means is even you work born ugly or mean, no amount of adornment can turn you beautiful or nice.
      a babba is a delicious neapolitan pastry with rum
      a strunze is a piece of shit

      the literal translation is, put rum put rum, who was born a piece a shit cannot become a babba

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  • What is the meaning of:

    Dicette ‘a morte: – Se ‘n Catania vaie, ‘n Catania vengo.
    Death said – If you’re going to Catania, I’ll come to Catania.


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  • Looking for a reasonable translation of this saying: “nun ce facite perdere ‘o tiempo ca nuie amma fa ‘o spezziale”– I have a sense that it is something along the lines of ‘if you’d stop wasting my time I could do something special’ or something along those lines.

  • Thank you for putting together this page. The Neapolitan language is difficult to read but well worth the effort. Takes me back to my childhood. My mother who has had dementia for the last 8 is able to remember most of these sayings. This is something I can share with my child.
    Grazie mille.

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