Italian Lessons


Scucire and Cucire

Yabla has been featuring a documentary series about famous Italian women. One of these women was Margherita Hack, who was a renowned scientist and astronomer. Her story is pretty fascinating.



Margherita grew up during the Italian fascist period and then got married in 1944 when the war was still going on. The war years were very rough for Italians. There was little food to go around, and money was scarce. In fact, when they got married, both Aldo and Margherita had coats that were "turned inside out." What did that mean?


Tutti e due con un cappotto rivoltato,

Both with a coat turned inside out,

perché allora i soldi veramente erano molto pochi.

because at the time there was really very little money.

Captions 38-39, Illuminate - Margherita Hack

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It took a little research to figure out what rivoltato really meant in this context. It's actually kind of interesting.


Margherita and Aldo, like many Italians in the 1940s, likely had coats made of wool — lana, with a silk lining — una fodera di seta. In those days, when a coat became too shabby to be presentable, it would not be thrown away. Heaven forbid! Instead, a seamstress or someone in the family who knew how to sew (which was fairly common), would open up all the seams — scucire, then turn the woolen part inside out, and resew — ricucire the lining back on. The coat at that point was like new, or close enough.


Italians have traditionally been attentive to clothing and keeping it nice. Nowadays, it frequently costs less to buy a new item of clothing, but years back, when a collar of a shirt would get frayed, it would be turned around and resewn, or even removed completely, rather than anyone buying a new shirt. If a wife and/or mother knew how to sew, she would make shirts for the men and boys in the family and blouses and skirts for the women and girls. But clothes had to be taken care of and they had to last.


When il tessuto (the fabric) has been consumed to the point of being unsightly, the Italian word is liso (frayed, worn, threadbare). Another, more common adjective is sciupato (ruined), from the verb sciupare.


The parts of a shirt that are frequently turned inside out and re-sewn are:


  • i polsini (the cuffs)
  • il colletto (the collar)


We'll report here some explanations of this tradition from the WordReference Italian only forum: (We've also translated it into English for you.)

Quando c'era molta miseria ed il cappotto era liso non lo si buttava. Semplicemente lo si faceva rivoltare ad una sarta in modo che la parte esterna, sciupata, andasse all'interno e scomparisse alla vista.


When there was a lot of poverty and a coat was frayed, it wasn't thrown away. It was simply turned inside out by a seamstress so that the outside part, all worn out, would go on the inside and disappear from view.


La fodera è seta cucita sulla lana. Una sarta può scucirla e ricucirla sulla parte opposta. Poi si fa lo stesso con le tasche; si rovescia il colletto, e voilà, il padre di famiglia aveva risparmiato qualche soldino per la famiglia!


The lining is silk sewn onto the wool. A seamstress can take the stitches out and sew it on the other side. Then the same is done with the pockets; [then] you turn the collar inside out, and voilà, the father of the family had saved up a little money for the family!


-Sì, era molto comune all'epoca. E si faceva soprattutto col colletto delle camicie. Quando diventava liso, lo scucivi e lo rovesciavi per cucirlo dalla parte ancora intatta. Pensa che i prezzi dei cappotti - e dell'abbigliamento in generale - erano proibitivi all'epoca: in proporzione con i prezzi di oggi un cappotto semplice poteva costare anche mezzo stipendio.


-Yes, it was very common at the time. And it was mostly done with the collar of a shirt. When it became worn out, you took the stitches out and turned it inside out to sew it on the still intact side. Just think that the prices of coats - and of clothing in general - were prohibitive at the time: in proportion to today's prices, a simple coat could cost even half a paycheck.


A word that is related to rivoltare is risvolto. We're still talking about something turned over. For more about the root verb voltare, see this lessonRi often means "again" and voltare means "to turn." Il risvolto is commonly used to mean "lapel" but can also refer to the cuff on a pant leg or shirt. This word came up in another Yabla video.


In the wonderful Yabla series based on a true story Non è mai troppo tardi (It's never too late), Alberto is teaching in a reformatory and wants to sneak in some pencils for the boys to write with. The kids have plenty of experience pilfering things, and show him where to hide the pencils: in the lapel or flap.


Mae' [maestro], qui, nel risvolto della giacca,

Teach, here, in the lapel of the jacket,

le metti qua dentro. -Qui?

you put them in here. -Here?

Captions 65-66, Non è mai troppo tardi - EP1

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If you haven't watched this series yet, non è mai troppo tardi!


  • cucire is "to sew." 
  • scucire is "to undo the sewing or stitching."
  • la fodera is "the lining."


Something else Italians like to flip or turn over is la frittata (the omelet), either literally or figuratively.


...perché lo conosco.

...because I know him.

Lui ha una capacità nel rivoltare le frittate

He's very capable of flipping the omelet [turning the tables]

che non ci puoi credere.

like you wouldn't believe.

Captions 36-37, Sposami - EP 1 - Part 4

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3 Need to Know Italian Expressions for Arguing in Italian

This week's segment of Sposami happens to have several idiomatic expressions that are worth looking at.



In the following example, the verb rompere (to break) is used, together with the direct object scatole (boxes). This is a euphemism, a polite way to say palle (balls). Although it is very easy for Italians to have the more vulgar expression on the tip of the tongue, they will avoid it in polite company, and will use scatole instead of palle.


Bruna ha il marito in cassa integrazione

Bruna's husband has been laid off

e fa di tutto anche lei per farsi licenziare

and she's trying her best to get fired,

rompendo le scatole in continuazione con rivendicazioni sindacali.

as well by pestering us [breaking our balls] constantly with union demands.

Captions 13-15, Sposami - EP 1 - Part 4

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If you don't know it's a euphemism, the expression makes little sense, but it's also handy to know that you can just use the verb rompere and the message will get across, all the same, guaranteed, cento percento (100%).


Oh, ma hai finito di rompere?

Oh, but have you finished bugging me?

Caption 30, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato

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You can just say when someone is pestering you,

Non rompere! (Don't bother me!) 


The noun form is used a lot, too, to describe someone who keeps pestering you.

È un vero rompiscatole (he/she is a real pain).


Ai ferri corti

This next idiom has interesting origins. Of course, you don't need to know its origins to use the expression. You do need to know that when a relationship becomes strained, and is on the verge of a rupture, you may well be ai ferri corti. If you are thinking in Italian, you can imagine the scene of two people no longer speaking to each other, or if they do speak, whatever they say is misconstrued, and sparks fly. You're dangerously close to the breaking point. If you watch the movie Sposami on Yabla, you'll get the picture!


Lo so che siete ai ferri corti, non me ne importa niente.

I know that you are at loggerheads. That doesn't matter to me.

Caption 27, Sposami - EP 1 - Part 4

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When we have to translate ai ferri corti, it's a bit trickier. We have to go to a word we no longer use much: Loggerheads. To be at loggerheads. A log is a thick piece of wood, and indeed "loggerhead" once meant "blockhead," as in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, act IV, scene IV [i.e. 3]: "Ah you whoreson loggerhead, you were born to do me shame."

And later, "loggerhead" meant an iron instrument with a long handle and a ball or bulb at the end (thus the name), used, when heated in the fire, for melting pitch and for heating liquids. This makes sense with the Italian ferri, as we are talking about iron tools or possibly weapons. Think of a blacksmith's tools. We can imagine that this tool used to melt pitch, if short, will be very, very hot. Or we can think of the sword and the dagger, also made of ferro (iron). When our swords are broken or gone, and we're using daggers, we are dangerously close. In any case, the conflict has gotten dangerously heated. 


La frittata


Perché lo conosco, lui ha una capacità nel rivoltare le frittate

Because I know him. He's very capable of flipping omelets [turning the tables]

che non ci puoi credere.

like you wouldn't believe.

Captions 36-37, Sposami - EP 1 - Part 4

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A popular quick meal for Italians is the frittata. The word has gained popularity even in English, but for those unfamiliar with it, it's the Italian version of an omelet, but usually flatter and less fluffy than the French kind, and often containing finely chopped vegetables and grated Parmesan cheese. 

You have to flip the frittata over to get it cooked on both sides. 

When you twist the argument, you're flipping it. You were to blame, but you twist things in such a way that it looks like the other person is at fault. Literally, it is flipping a situation around to be in one's favor despite not being in the right. We can also translate it with "to turn the tables."

There are a few other variations of this expression:

rovesciare la frittata (turn the frittata over)

rigirare la frittata (flip the omelet over again)

girare la frittata (flip the omelet)


But they all mean basically the same thing.


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Caption 37, 36, 27, 15, 14, 13

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