Prendere lucciole per lanterne

Prendere lucciole per lanterne in Italian

Prendere lucciole per lanterne
To make a blunder

Literal translationTo mistake fireflies for lanterns
MeaningConfusing something small for something big
IPA pronunciation/ˈprɛndere lutˈtʃole per lanˈtɛrne/

Where does this come from? Some say that it comes from the fact that the light of a firefly is very different from the light of a lantern, so it’s impossible to confuse the two. Others tell a different tale. In ancient times, the Arabs used to light up their tents with very dim lights because they didn’t have enough oil and fat to light up larger lanterns.

When they invaded Egypt in 639 AD, they came across a swarm of fireflies (sciame di lucciole) along the banks of the Nile, and since they weren’t used to such large fireflies, they mistook them for lanterns. They then thought that a huge army was ahead of them and ran away!

Prendere alone means to take, but when we add the preposition per, its meaning changes. Prendere per actually means “to mistake for” or, more literally, “to take [someone] for”.

sad man who watches as his bonsai tree falls apart

For example, you can say…

Ti sbagli di grosso. Stai prendendo lucciole per lanterne.
You are so wrong. You are making a blunder.

Mi prendi forse per scemo?
Do you take me for a fool, perhaps?

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