"Magna magna" is a typical Italian slang expression commonly used by people to give vent to their frustrations and disappointment with politicians when cases of corruption and personal interest in public affairs are brought to light.

Literally the meaning is "eat eat", where the verb "eat" in this case is synonymous with "steal". The common saying is "e' tutto un magna magna" that is "it is all just a magna magna".

I can't find a reference on this subject.

What are the equivalent BrE and AmE (possibly slang) expressions?

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    Should that be mangia mangia? Jul 19, 2016 at 11:03
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    @StoneyB -" Mangia" would be the standard Italian form. The Roman dialect form is used, incidentally :). as per the link above.
    – user66974
    Jul 19, 2016 at 11:05
  • 4
    The first photograph at your link suggests an English idiom: "Pigs at a trough". Jul 19, 2016 at 11:08
  • 4
    We sometimes say "they're lining their pockets", but I like your harsher idiom better.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 19, 2016 at 12:01
  • 4
    "Riding the gravy train"
    – J...
    Jul 19, 2016 at 16:17

8 Answers 8


Quite similar is

have/get one's nose/snout in the trough

British disapproving

to be in or get into a situation in which one is getting or trying to get a lot of money


'He's got his nose in the trough' could be applied to any person over-eagerly procuring money, but is almost always used for illegal or at least dodgy practices.

  • 3
    Will 'US politicians have their snouts in the money trough' and 'So the stories confirm what most of us plebs already knew - the politicos have got their snouts in the trough and are eagerly guzzling up the swill.' {The Inquirer} do? Jul 19, 2016 at 11:25
  • I think this is the best answer, since it conveys the meaning of "greedily eating something", and its usage suggests illegal practices, although the "swine" analogy is not evoked by the Italian expression (well, not by the words, but in many persons' minds... :-) Jul 19, 2016 at 12:12
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    We use the expression "troughers" to describe these people too.
    – DavidG
    Jul 19, 2016 at 14:27
  • 3
    @DavidG - Who is "We"?
    – user66974
    Jul 19, 2016 at 17:47
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    @DavidG I think it should be noted that "magna magna" does not describe people but a practice or a situation. Jul 19, 2016 at 19:32

Oink oink might be closest in form in American English. This is the English word for the sound a pig makes, and can be used to mean "greedy" (similarly to the trough idiom, I think). "Oink out", for example, equates to "pig out", meaning overeat or binge (see, for example, The Free Dictionary), and I might say "oink oink" as a humorous admonition to my child if I saw him reaching for yet another donut.

Helpfully for this situation, in the US "oink" also evokes political "pork"1. "Pork barrel" is an idiom for a particular kind of political corruption:

pork barrel: government projects or appropriations yielding rich patronage benefits (Merriam Webster)

pork 2: government funds, jobs, or favors distributed by politicians to gain political advantage (Merriam Webster)

This usage of "oink" is not as widespread as the Italian saying you describe, but I think would be pretty instantly understood in context. Some examples from around the web:

Oink Oink news commentary (By Jay Lassiter)

Oink Oink commentary (Article at 100% Fed Up)

If, for example, the highest executives of the nation or of the state are called, not President X or Governor Y but pig X or pig Y, and if what they say in campaign speeches is rendered as "oink, oink," this offensive designation is used to deprive them of the aura of public servants or leaders who have only the common interest in mind. They are "redefined" as that which they really are in the minds of the radicals. (Political Humor: From Aristophanes to Sam Ervin By Charles E. Schutz, 1977)

1Note that "pig" is also a derogatory term for police, and "oink" can be used to reference police (especially those who abuse their powers), so be sure of your contextual cues when/if using.

  • very nice answer..
    – user66974
    Jul 20, 2016 at 12:29
  • As a native speaker of neither English nor Italian, I still feel that the last picture you have posted does not reflect the usage of the expression being asked about, but is more about spending tax money on something that still benefits the people, though perhaps something that most people would agree is not necessary. At least that's how I interpret "spending like drunken sailors" in the context of Congress.
    – pipe
    Jul 20, 2016 at 18:13
  • @pipe - what expression wound you typically use is Sweden, if any?
    – user66974
    Jul 20, 2016 at 18:34
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    @pipe You're right that this refers pretty specifically to pork barrel politics, not politicians spending on themselves directly. In general, I think in the US you're just not likely to have a familiar idiom that means something along the lines of "business as usual" when referring to actual embezzlement by politicians, because (happily) that kind of corruption is still quite shocking here. However, many folks consider blatant "special interest" pandering to be unethical/corrupt, and that's what the linked article is discussing. Cont...
    – 1006a
    Jul 20, 2016 at 19:15
  • Cont. Disclaimer: I'm not passing judgment on the value or ethics of either of the situations described in the linked articles, just saying that their respective authors appear to see those situations as unethical.
    – 1006a
    Jul 20, 2016 at 19:16

The idiom to feather one's (own) nest fits the bill which means:

(figuratively) to use power and prestige to provide for oneself selfishly. (Said especially of politicians who use their offices to make money for themselves.): 'The mayor seemed to be helping people, but she was really feathering her own nest.' 'The building contractor used a lot of public money to feather his nest."

[McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs]

  • @Josh61 I thought you were saying "uninteresting". :-) "Politicians are all lying greedy bastards" could come closer. But, can I post it as an answer? I don't know.
    – user140086
    Jul 19, 2016 at 11:36
  • I think we have to be "politically correct":)
    – user66974
    Jul 19, 2016 at 12:01
  • Eggsecrable pun. Jul 19, 2016 at 21:14

How about "money grab"? As in "That bridge-to-nowhere was a big money grab". It's not exactly the same meaning, but it's close.


In American English, that would probably be "Lining his own pockets" if you mean he's making sure he gets some kind of money at the end. To be more like just stealing from the position, you could say he "has his hand in the till [cash register]".


I would suggest dog eat dog. From the Cambridge Idioms dictionary:

if a situation is dog eat dog, people will do anything to be successful, even if what they do harms other people

It is commonly used in the expression: "it's a dog-eat-dog world." I like this one as an equivalent because it expresses the disgust that I believe is implicit in the original and also happens to use the eating metaphor.

I should point out, however, that this expression also implies that the people involved are behaving destructively toward each other which I am not sure applies in the original.

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    In the original, the people involved are behaving destructively toward the public interest. It might be related, nevertheless "dog eat dog" sounds pretty nice. :) Jul 19, 2016 at 19:33
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    I think this conveys more of a competitive setting or environment whereas the original premise is more towards corruption. Jul 20, 2016 at 5:39
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    @AndreaLazzarotto Corruption is not restricted to taking bribes, but used for most illegal behaviour by politicians (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/corruption). Misusing political power for personal gain is also considered corruption. An example could be a politician using state money for expensive wine (as it happened in Denmark around 2002: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Brixtofte)
    – Fizker
    Jul 20, 2016 at 14:54
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    @user186336 Ah. I hate those "false friends" with Italian words. :D Jul 20, 2016 at 15:43
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    To me, ‘dog-eat-dog’ implies ruthless competition, but not necessarily dishonesty. Jul 21, 2016 at 4:28

On the lines of a food or eating analogy:

To have your cake and eat it too

It doesn't make much literal sense but it's generally used to imply greed, since one can't eat a cake and still have it later. It's not necessarily used for politics or corruption in my experience of New Zealand English (where hasn't been a huge issue). I don't think this expression is specific to English (although it's been used as far back as Early Modern English). Equivalent expressions exist in many European languages and British or Commonwealth countries associate it with the French or upper class Aristocrasy.

It may bear more resemblance to the Italian:

Avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca

To have the barrel full and the wife drunk

This is probably used more broadly than politics but may apply here. I don't think the expression "mangia mangia" has a direct equivalent in English, if my Italian friends are to be trusted, Italy has far more colourful and profane expressions when it come to political slang than we do, particularly when it comes to negative (pre-Brexit) views of the European Union.

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    «Avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca» is a completely different expression with a different meaning. It means to want something impossible, not necessarily that you are stealing public money / acting in a selfish way while being a politician. Jul 20, 2016 at 12:05
  • @AndreaLazzarotto I understand that the phrases have a slightly different meaning. I've suggested this one instead for English use because the phrase is familiar to a much wider range of English speakers. Many other answers are rarely used in conversational English or are regional. Hence I have suggested a phrase with similar usage (to discuss greed) rather than a direct translation. We do not have many slang phrases specific to politics: native English speakers use many of the suggested answers here in a range of broader contexts.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jul 24, 2016 at 0:39
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    They are not slightly different, they are completely different. Well, I think I am still able to understand two different things in my native language. :P One is a phrase describing impossible desires, the other one is a noun describing a situation where people are all stealing money or gaining other personal advantages (which is quite far from an impossible scenario). They are unrelated. Jul 24, 2016 at 12:39
  • Each to their own. Cake was historically a luxury of the upper class. The connotation to me is that having so much cake that you are unable to eat it is an exorbitant waste, at the expense of feeding the poor. A greed near impossible to conceal. In this respect there is similarity in the intended use in English, it may well differ considerably in meaning in Italian and not translate very well.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jul 25, 2016 at 14:06

I think the saying you are looking for is

 "Mannàggia Gesù!" or "Mannàggia! Mannàggia!"

which translates literally to "dammit Jesus! "dammit! dammit!" being a polite swear if you like: it is predominantly used as an interjection, not so common other than the south of Italy or with non southern-families. It has been in dictionaries since late 1800s I think(I have read books from that era that have it) and I am sure it's originally a corruption of "abbia il malanno"(to have misfortune) and "malann'aggia" or "malannaggia" "may calamity entertain you" , (most of us of Sicilian and Neapolitan stock know it) which in a variety of Italian dialects can sound close to "Mangia Mangia"

Which rather than an imprecation and sign of venting anger is simply what it seems like: "eat eat"; often said to guests to show hospitality (and recalcitrant children to make them eat up!)

It can also be used when you realise you are in the wrong to admit defeat in anger at yourself, and to angrily agree to disagree on a matter and drop it.

In Scottish the closest equivalent is "Damn it to hell!!" of "Ah, F*ck it!" depending on company, probably the same in most English speaking countries.

After speaking to the rest of my family (ages 8 to 112) none of us has ever heard the "Magna magna" variant.

  • 1
    Hi, I am not sure you understood my question. Where are you from? if I may ask.
    – user66974
    Jul 21, 2016 at 11:01
  • @Josh61 I am Italian and Scottish, currently living in Scotland.:)
    – GMasucci
    Jul 21, 2016 at 15:54
  • "Mannaggia! Mannaggia!" is totally unrelated to "magna magna". At least for a simple reason: magna magna is a noun, not an exclamation. A magna magna is a situation where people in charge (usually politicians) steal money or they do their own interest only. I can't understand how "Damn it to hell" describes this. Jul 21, 2016 at 23:14
  • I will happily stand corrected, let me know if I should delete the answer guys and I will pull it:)
    – GMasucci
    Jul 22, 2016 at 3:39

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