Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

A babble of cabbage

A babble of cabbage
As you’ve probably realized by now, the Italian language is full of idiosyncracies that even many Italians don’t fully understand. Take the word ‘cavalo’ for example. You’ll hear it a lot. But despite the word’s popularity, and the plethora of uses it has, it literally means cabbage. That’s right, that big green vegetable your mother used to try and make you eat when you were a kid. And while some expressions that use ‘cavalo’ do indeed refer to the vegetable in question, for others, its use feels purely arbitrary, often negative and acting as a substitute for words like damn, hell and wow.

Take a look at some of them and you’ll see what we mean.
Cavolo! – Bizarrely, an exclamation of wonder. Because, you know, cabbages are magic and all.
Cavolo riscaldato – Heated cabbage. The idea of trying to present something old as being new, like reheating cabbage.
Come i cavoli a merenda – Cabbage in a snack. An expression to say that something is out of place. Because really, who wants to snack on cabbage?
Testa di cavolo – They have a cabbage head. Used to describe someone acting in a silly manner, or who is generally not the sharpest tool in the box.

And a few useful expressions:
Col cavolo! – What the cabbage? (No way!)
Che cavolo vuoi? – What the cabbage do you want?
Che cavolo fai? - What the cabbage are you doing?
Non valere un cavolo – Not worth a damn.
Non me ne importa un cavolo – I don’t give a damn.
Non capisce un cavolo -  They don’t understand a damn thing.
Fatti i cavoli tuoi! -  Mind your own business.