Italian Phase: Fa un freddo cane! (It’s freezing cold!)

Now that we’re well and truly into the depths of winter (inverno), we thought we’d share an idiomatic phrase that is widely used in spoken Italian on freezing cold days.

Fa un freddo cane!

It’s freezing cold!
(Literal translation: It’s dog cold! or It makes a cold dog!)

It is made up of the following components:

  • fa >> The third person present singular of the verb fare (to do / make).
  • un >> the masculine indefinite article; the equivalent of a or an in English
  • freddo >> The word for cold in Italian.
  • cane >> The word for dog in Italian.
Dog-sledding with huskies
Fa un freddo cane nell’Artico! = It’s freezing cold in the Arctic!

So, why is it Italians associate the bitter cold with man’s best friend instead of another animal with less desirable characteristics?

The most plausible origin of the expression has its roots in the now bygone practice of leaving the dog outside to guard the house, even in extreme temperatures. Although they were able to withstand the cold, the poor conditions in which they lived made them extremely aggressive towards any intruder who dared to approach the property.

A second possible origin is the way in which the Eskimo populations measured the cold. The colder it was outside, the more dogs they would allow indoors to warm the house with their body heat.

A final interpretation draws an association between the painful bite of a dog and the sensation of the bitter cold entering one’s bones.

Another variation on this is expression is fa un freddo da cani. It means exactly the same thing but cani (dogs) is the plural of cane.

Fa un freddo da cani!

It’s freezing cold!

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