You eat like four millstones! — The truth behind Camilleri's clichés
"Oh, God, not another cliché!" Montalbano thinks. "Sow your wild oats, count your chickens before they hatch, or eat like a horse, when you're not putting the cart first!"
The scene is funny and tender. I also realized that its original-language version must challenge translators. A cliché or, indeed, almost any idiom cannot be translated literally if it is to retain its flavor. What, I wondered, were the Italian originals behind the clichés that so exasperated Montalbano?
Thanks to the delicious blog Briciole, I now know. The Italian for what English speakers mean by "counting one's chickens before they hatch," Briciole reports, is vendere la pelle dell'orso prima di averlo ucciso, literally "to sell the pelt before killing the bear."
That's a good expression and worth repeating. My favorite, though, is the Italian version of "to eat like a horse": mangiare a quattro palmenti, literally "to eat like four millstones." Even better is this variant: macinare a quattro palmenti, "to grind like four millstones, i.e., like a mill that has four millstones." That's voracious. And now you all have something new to say at your next family feast.
I find the specificity of the four beguiling, and I will make every effort to introduce this delightful expression into English.
Mille grazie to Briciole and its keeper, Simona, whose complete comment you can read here.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008
Italian crime fiction