Italian Sayings Using the Word Mangiare

Mangia! Mangia!

Family dining out in Rome
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Whether or not one has spent time in Italy, the word Mangia! is one of those terms that transports us instantly to a crowded dinner table and reminds us of the self-evident reputation of Italians as incorrigible gourmands. Without a doubt, popular culture and the overabundance of Italian and Italian-inspired restaurants throughout the world have made this word—Eat!—emblematic of the human love for cooking and food and its central place in the human heart and hearth.

Of course, mangiare in its basic form means to eat. A simple verb of the first conjugation, regular as a box of Barilla spaghetti. Mangia! or Mangiate! is the imperative. Mangiamo! is the exhortative—an invitation to dig in.

But in Italian the act of eating is so profoundly ingrained into the fiber of living and thinking that through the centuries it has taken a central place in language, and it is used in cleverly crafted expressions, sayings, and proverbs as metaphor for consuming, existing, surviving, devouring, adoring, and exploiting—in the good and the bad. It's a bit table knowledge and food descriptor, but a reminder of life's savvy as well.

Ways to Mangiare

Coupled with adverbs, adjectives, or complements, these are forms or uses of mangiare at its simplest:

  • Fare da mangiare: to cook; to prepare food
  • Dare da mangiare: to feed, both to animals and humans
  • Finire di mangiare: to finish eating
  • Mangiare a sazietà: to eat your fill
  • Mangiare bene: to eat well (as in delicious food)
  • Mangiare male: to eat poorly (as in bad food)
  • Mangiare come un maiale: to eat like a pig
  • Mangiare come un uccellino: to eat like a bird
  • Mangiare da cani: to eat badly
  • Mangiare con le mani: to eat with one's hands
  • Mangiare fuori: to dine out or outside
  • Mangiare dentro: to eat inside
  • Mangiare alla carta: to order off the menu
  • Mangiare un boccone: to eat a bite
  • Mangiare in bianco: to eat plain food, without meat or fats (when you're sick, for example)
  • Mangiare salato or mangiare dolce: to eat salty or sweet

The infinitive mangiare has also taken an important seat at the table of Italian nouns as an infinito sostantivato. In fact, you don't really refer to food as cibo so much as il mangiare or il da mangiare.

  • Mia mamma fa il mangiare buono. My mom makes great food.
  • Mi piace il mangiare sano e pulito. I like clean and healthy food.
  • Portiamo il da mangiare a tavola. Let's take the food to the table.
  • Dammi da mangiare che muoio! Feed me: I am dying!

Metaphoric Mangiare

And then there are all the good expressions about eating but not really eating:

  • Mangiare la polvere: to eat dirt or to be beaten
  • Mangiare a ufo/a sbafo: to eat at someone else's expense; to freeload
  • Mangiare con gli occhi: to eat someone with one's eyes (from lust)
  • Mangiare con i piedi: to eat with bad table manners
  • Mangiare dai baci: to eat up with kisses
  • Mangiare vivo: to eat someone alive (from anger)
  • Mangiarsi le mani o i gomiti: to kick oneself
  • Mangiarsi le parole: to mumble
  • Mangiarsi il fegato: to eat one's liver or heart out from spite
  • Mangiare la foglia: to silently perceive what's happening
  • Mangiarsi il fieno in erba: to spend your money before you have it (literally, to eat the wheat while it's grass)
  • Mangiare l'agnello in corpo alla pecora: to do something too early or soon (literally, to eat the lamb in the sheep's belly)
  • Mangiare quello che passa il convento: to eat what's served (what the convent gives you)

And a few metaphoric but practically rooted:

  • Non avere da mangiare: to have nothing to eat/to be poor
  • Guadagnarsi da mangiare: to earn a living

Compound Nouns With Mangia

There are lots of great compound words formed with mangiare in its present tense, third person singular mangia, and it is easy to understand and remember them by directly translating each part of the word. For example, mangianastri is made of mangia and nastri, which are cassettes. The result is tape player. Italian compound nouns (nomi composti) with a form of mangiare include the following common terms:

  • Mangiabambini: an ogre who eats children in fairy tales, or a grim-looking person who is, in reality, mild and harmless
  • Mangiadischi: a record player
  • Mangiaformiche: an anteater
  • Mangiafumo: a candle that rids a closed environment of smoke
  • Mangiafuoco: a fire-eater (at fairs, or in The Adventures of Pinocchio)
  • Mangialattine: a tin can-crusher
  • Mangiamosche: a fly swatter
  • Mangiarospi: a water snake that eats frogs
  • Mangiatoia: a trough
  • Mangiata: a big feast (Che mangiata!)
  • Mangiatrice di uomini: man-eater (feminine)
  • Mangiatutto: someone who eats everything (a person di bocca buona)

Mangia-Flavored Epithets

Given Italy's geopolitical background and long and historically complex struggles for and with powers of many kinds—foreign, domestic, and of economic class—it is not surprising that the word mangiare has inspired all sorts of creative terms for people who are deemed to be usurping power or doing otherwise bad things. Mostly the terms deride people in positions of power, but some also scorn people of poor character, poor people, and people from different regions, revealing Italy's longstanding class antagonisms and factionalism.

The Italian press, the Internet, and dictionaries are full of common terms compounded from mangia. You may not be able to use them often, but if you are interested in Italian culture they are, at the very least, fascinating:

  • Mangiacristiani: someone who appears to be so mean as to eat people (cristiani are all people, in secular terms)
  • Mangiafagioli: bean-eater; used by people of one part of Italy to ridicule those of another where the cuisine calls for a lot of beans (fagioli); understood to mean someone coarse, unrefined
  • Mangiamaccheroni: macaroni-eater; derogatory term for migrants from the South
  • Mangiamangia: the act of eating constantly, but also used to describe politicians' ill-gotten gain
  • Mangiamoccoli: a person who feigns an exaggerated devotion to the church (moccoli are candle drippings)
  • Mangiapagnotte: a loafer; often used to describe someone who receives a public salary but does little work
  • Mangiapane: bread-eater; a person of little import
  • Mangiapatate: potato-eater; used to mock people who eat a lot of potatoes, mostly Germans
  • Mangiapolenta: polenta-eater; used to make fun of people from Veneto and Lombardia, where they eat a lot of polenta
  • Mangiapopolo: a despot
  • Mangiapreti: a person who inveighs against the Catholic Church and priests
  • Mangiasapone: soap-eater; a slight to Southerners (apparently because it was said that they thought that soap handed out by the Americans during the war was cheese and they bit into it)
  • Mangiaufo: a habitual freeloader

Most of these can be feminine or masculine and the term does not change—only the article.

Proverbs Referring to Mangiare

The slogan "Chi 'Vespa' Mangia le Mele" was part of a famous, late-1960s advertising campaign by Piaggio to promote the Vespa scooter. It translates roughly to, "If you [go on vacation with a Vespa or travel with a] Vespa, you eat apples" (with a Biblical reference, perhaps). The eating, of course, was key to the invitation to ride.

Indeed, the Italian language has much wisdom to give centered on eating:

  • Chi mangia e non invita possa strozzarsi con ogni mollica. May he who eats and invites no one choke on every crumb.
  • Chi mangia solo crepa solo. He who eats alone dies alone.
  • Mangia questa minestra o salta la finestra. Eat this soup or jump out the window!
  • Ciò che si mangia con gusto non fa mai male. What you eat with pleasure will never harm you.
  • Mangiare senza bere è come il tuono senza pioggia. Eating without drinking is like thunder without the rain.

Mangia! Mangia!