Gesti Universali Posted by on Mar 23, 2010 in Italian Language

To complement my series of blogs about Italian body language I thought it might be useful to take a look at a few universal gestures. Here are several that we all use:

Fare segno, or fare cenno means ‘to make a sign’, and from this comes the expression ‘fare cenno di sì con la testa’ meaning ‘to make a yes sign with one’s head’ or more simply ‘to nod yes’. In practice we shorten this expression to the slightly less lengthy ‘far di sì con la testa’.

‘Far di no con la testa’ describes the gesture that we make when we move our head from side to side to indicate no. However, we also have the expression ‘scuotere la testa’ meaning ‘to shake one’s head’, which refers to the gesture that we make to indicate our disbelief, disapproval or disagreement.

Fare segno or cenno con la mano, on the other hand (pardon the pun), means to wave one’s hand to attract attention, but if you want to say ‘to wave’ with the meaning of ‘to wave hello or goodbye’ use ‘salutare con la mano’, or ‘fare ciao con la mano’.

‘Strizzare l’occhio’ means literally ‘to squeeze one’s eye’ or more simply ‘to wink’. ‘Dare una strizzatina d’occhio’, therefore, means ‘to give a wink’, but it is more common to use the expression ‘fare l’occhiolino’, literally ‘to make the little eye’. For example: ‘ho visto Giovanni fare l’occhiolino a Laura’ (I saw Giovanni wink at Laura), or ‘mi ha fatto l’occhiolino’ (he winked at me).

Una smorfia is a grimace, hence ‘fare le smorfie’ means ‘to grimace’ or ‘to make faces’. You might typically hear a parent say to their child ‘ma perchè fai le smorfie, non ti piace la pappa?’ (But why are you making faces/grimacing, don’t you like your food?). We also have the expression ‘fare le boccacce’, ‘to make rude faces’, something else that children (and some adults) love to do.

‘Aggrottare le sopracciglia’ (to contract one’s eyebrows), and ‘aggrottare la fronte’ (to contract one’s forehead) both mean ‘to frown’ or ‘to knit one’s brow’.

‘Alzare le spalle’ (to raise one’s shoulders) means, as you might guess, ‘to shrug’, therefore ‘dare un’alzata di spalle’ is ‘to give a shrug’.

Last but not least ‘indicare’ (‘to show’ or ‘to indicate’) is an abbreviated way of saying ‘indicare col dito’ (to indicate with one’s finger’, or simply ‘to point). For example, Paolo: ‘Ecco la mia casa lassù’ Roberto: ‘non riesco ad individuarla, indicamela (Paolo: ‘That’s my house up there’ Roberto: ‘I can’t make it out, point it out to me’). To clarify: indicamela is constructed from the imperative of indicare (point out), the dative pronoun me (to me), and the direct object pronoun la (it) which refers to ‘la casa’ (the house). You could also say ‘me la puoi indicare?’ (can you point it out to me?). N.B. the accent on indicamela falls on the first i, which makes the pronunciation quite tricky!

Be careful though, because as my mum always used to tell me, è maleducato indicare!’ (‘It’s rude to point!’).

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  1. tia o'c:

    Interesting! Very similar expression in Romanian (of course :-).

  2. Jeremy:

    I liked your pun!

  3. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    Universal gestures communicate universally. It’s gestures that mean the opposite in other cultures that concern me.

    Is there a category of “Gesture to avoid in Italy”?

    In Texas there is a “Hook ‘em Horns” gesture (supporting the Texas Longhorn football team) made with a fist having the little finger and forefinger extended which probably shouldn’t be made in Italy.

    What others may there be?


  4. Ted Taormina:

    Dear Serena, The other day while looking up another word in my English Italian dictionary my eye caught the word “morning.” I noticed for the Italian it listed both “mattina” for the feminine noun and “mattino” for a masculine noun. It then gave examples of both usages and I couldn’t figure out when it was appropriate to use which form. It seems I have always heard it in the femine form. When do you use the masculine? Is there a rule to follow? Is this another “tavola” “tavolo” ? Sincerely, Ted Taormina PS I love your blogs

    • serena:

      @Ted Taormina Salve Ted, ‘mattina’ and ‘mattino’ are generally interchangeable, but in certain situations one will be used in preference to the other, particularly in proverbs and idiomatic expressions. I’ll write a blog about it, so stay tuned.
      Grazie per i complimenti.
      A presto!

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