calabrian saying

When Fleas Have a Cough

Have you ever heard the sound of a flea coughing? No? Nevertheless, in Southern Italy puru i pulici hannu a tussi! Or, translated into English, even fleas have a cough. When exploring Italian and Southern Italy culture we want to consider the creative force of popular wisdom with its abundance of sharp, humorous and highly imaginative dialectal proverbs. But what does this saying mean?


Here, the flea is considered to be an uninfluential person whose opinion doesn’t matter, or should not matter. A person who you would not expect to hear the opinion of, in regards to topical issues or during formal discussions. Often, using this proverb we are referring to people of a young age or without a well defined role that  gives them the right to speak.


Despite this, however, even the flea wants to be heard and express its opinion. It is, therefore, an expression referring to sins of presumption or to the claim to be listened to, even if insignificant. Have you ever known a flea with a cough?


This expression comes back to the idea of an Ancient Rome’s saying: Habet et musca splenem that means Even a fly gets angry. Another insect, same meaning. As reported by Vittorio Pupillo in the collection “Proverbi. Una guida sicura per le stagioni della vita”, this proverb is common in all Southern Italy. We can find it in different forms, depending on the dialect, in Campania (Pure e pulice tenono a tosse), in Abruzzo (Pure li pùvece tè la tosce), in Puglia (Puru li pulici tenane la tosse), in Sicily (Macari ‘u pollici hiavi ‘a tussi) and even in Corsican language (ancu e puce hanu a tosse).