Translated by Alanna Quintyne

Are you ready to learn 10 Spooky Italian Expressions? Because Halloween is getting closer, I have prepared some phrases that could be perfect for it. N.B., I am not saying this because they are really Halloween-related. However, I am just saying that you can identify words that’ll make you think about death, such as blood, corpse, skeleton, etc…

So, if you are curious and want to know more about these phrases, start reading this article called ’10 Spooky Italian Expressions’ and enjoy these spine-tingling phrases! :D

Halloween is approaching and again this year I couldn’t help but write a themed article. But while in the past I have mostly talked about traditions that take place around this time, this time I want to explain 10 ‘spooky’ Italian expressions that are perfect for this part of the year.

Let me explain. These expressions are not strictly related to Halloween, since it is, as you already know, not really an Italian holiday. We could, however, consider them themed, because in them we find skeletons, blood, and many other macabre elements typical of this holiday.

So let’s not linger any longer and get to the heart of today’s topic by examining 10 ‘spooky’ Italian expressions with explanations.

1. Avere scheletri nell’armadio

“Avere scheletri nell’armadio” means to have secrets that you want to keep because they are considered embarrassing or compromising. For example:

  • Ha pagato il silenzio della sua segretaria affinché i suoi scheletri nell’armadio non venissero a galla.  

(He paid for his secretary’s silence so that his skeletons in the closet would not come to light).

2. Pugnalare alle spalle

The verb pugnalare means to strike someone forcefully with a knife, but this expression is used not so much in a physical as in a metaphorical sense; it therefore indicates betraying someone’s trust. For example:

  • A quel punto si aspettava di tutto tranne che il suo migliore amico lo pugnalasse alle spalle!

(At that point he expected anything but to be stabbed in the back by his best friend!)


Beware, because you may also find variants with the same meaning:

  • Colpire alle spalle
  • Colpire alla schiena

3. Essere bianco come un cadavere

A cadavere is by definition a lifeless body. Therefore, it is quite clear that this expression refers to the pale complexion, as white as that of a corpse.

Usually, this pale complexion is caused by a strong fright, as in the following sentence:

  • Che ti è successo? Sembra che tu abbia visto un fantasma! Sei bianco come un cadavere!

(What happened to you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost! You’re as white as a corpse/ghost!)

4. A ogni morte di papa

This expression refers to a very important figure for Italy and for Catholics all over the world: the pope. Its meaning is ‘infrequently’ and is meant to emphasize (fortunately I would say) the extreme rarity of this event. For example:

  • Hai sentito Paola? Come sta? (Have you heard from Paola? How is she?)
  • Sinceramente non ne ho idea. È una cosa che capita ogni morte di papa! (I honestly have no idea. I hear her once in a blue moon!)

5. Con le unghie e con i denti

This phrase is usually used with two verbs: Combattere and difendersi. It basically means to do everything possible not to succumb and to be victorious. Here is one way in which you could use this expression:

  • La squadra ha combattuto con le unghie e con i denti e alla fine si è aggiudicata la partita.

(The team fought tooth and nail and eventually won the game.)



The next two expressions we will examine are quite similar to each other:

6. Avere/Far venire la pelle d’oca and

7. Accapponare la pelle

The similarity between these phrases is due not only to the fact that they have the word pelle (skin) in common, but also to the fact that they both refer to that involuntary reaction that the body has when being cold but also when experiencing feelings of fear, revulsion and disgust.

Read the following phrases to better understand how to use them:

  • Ti piacciono i serpenti? No, non mi piacciono affatto: mi fanno venire la pelle d’oca.

(Do you like snakes? No, I don’t like them at all: they give me goosebumps.)

  • Quando ho sentito quel rumore in piena notte mi si è accappona la pelle!

(When I heard that noise in the middle of the night, I got goosebumps!)

8. Gelare il sangue nelle vene

The two sentences presented earlier lead us directly to this one. Again, the expression derives from an actual physiological condition that occurs, as an important dictionary states, ‘when one feels great fright or profound horror’. Here it is in a sentence:

  • Quell’urlo improvviso mi ha fatto gelare il sangue nelle vene!

(That sudden scream made my blood run cold!)

9. Mantenere il sangue freddo

Like the previous one, this expression also contains the word ‘sangue’ (blood), but in this case, what is being emphasized is quite the opposite. In fact, “mantenere il sangue freddo” is the same as keeping calm, having strong self-control, not panicking… For example:

  • Nonostante la situazione fosse difficile ha mantenuto il sangue freddo!

(Despite the difficult situation he kept his cool!)

10. Essere un pugno nell’occhio

Essere un pugno nell’occhio is an expression that has nothing to do with the physical action of hitting someone in the face. It is in fact used when there is something that is not in harmony with the rest, leading to a result perceived as unpleasant and anything but balanced. For example:

  • Chissà come si concerà per la festa. I suoi abbinamenti sono sempre un pugno nell’occhio!

(Who knows how he will dress for the party. His combinations are always an eyesore!)


As already mentioned in the introduction, in this article I wanted to share with you some expressions that I have defined as ‘spooky’. That is, I have presented 10 Italian idioms (which you can memorize) in perfect Halloween style, as they contain elements that refer to death, the transience of life, which in my opinion are fitting for this period!

Of course, the most interesting thing about these 10 expressions is that they can be used all year round! :D

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