What’s the meaning of “Prendere lucciole per lanterne”?

In this short lesson, we will learn the meaning of the Italian idiom Prendere lucciole per lanterne along with its pronunciation. If you have ever made a blunder, this expression is for you!

Let’s get started! Iniziamo!


Prendere lucciole per lanterne

Meaning of the idiom

Prendere lucciole per lanterne can be literally translated as “to mistake fireflies for lanterns”. Its meaning is the same as the common English expression to make a blunder, so it’s used to describe a situation where you are completely wrong and confused about something.

Linguistically speaking, this idiom can be broken down into…

  • prendere (to take)
  • lucciole (fireflies, from lucciola, firefly)
  • per (for)
  • lanterne (lanterns, from lanterna, lantern)

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 could 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?


Pronunciation of Prendere lucciole per lanterne in Italian

Now let’s hear how this idiom is pronounced.

Prendere lucciole per lanterne.
To make a blunder.
Literally: To mistake fireflies for lanterns.

If you need help with Italian pronunciation, check out the lesson on the Italian alphabet and pronunciation.


Where does Prendere lucciole per lanterne come from?

The origin of this expression is controversial.

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 for anyone to confuse the two. Others tell a different (and very interesting) 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!

a swarm of fireflies along a river

And that’s the end of our lesson on the Italian idiom Prendere lucciole per lanterne!


What next?

See all the other Italian idioms!

Now that you’ve seen what the meaning of the idiom Prendere lucciole per lanterne is in Italian, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

Title: Italian All-in-One For Dummies
Language: English / Italian
Publisher: For Dummies
Pages: 672

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