Seize the opportunity, that’s what prendere la palla al balzo (prain-dai-rai lah pahl-lah ahl bahl-tsoh) means. Taken literally, it’s a way more fanciful expression in Italian than it is in English: “to catch the ball while it bounces up.”
And, indeed, that’s the idea: to take the opportunity right when it comes, at the perfect moment, just as good players would do with a ball: now, there is no mention in the history of the expression about the type of ball game we refer to, but I think we can all agree any would do: rugby, baseball, football, soccer, you name it.
There is a variation of the expression, cogliere la palla al balzo, which is slightly higher in register: prendere means “to take,” while cogliere is more like “to seize.” But don’t worry about it: both mean the exact same thing in the end.
Typical examples of prendere la palla al balzo? Easy! Walking by your favorite store, noticing they have a flash 70% sale on everything and buying all they have in the window. The person you fancy has been dumped? It’s the right moment to offer a friendly shoulder to cry on, because… who knows, right?!
Prendere la palla al balzo is also used when you need to talk about something difficult to someone, you don’t know how to tackle the subject and they do it instead: you seize the opportunity to say what you have to say there and then.
In a certain way, prendere la palla al balzo can be compared to another famous expression, the Latin carpe diem, or seize the moment, although they are not quite the same thing, with the latter usually referring to more philosophically oriented matters.
L’ho incontrato per caso, ma ho colto la palla al balzo e ho chiesto di quel lavoro.
I met him by chance, but I seized the opportunity to ask about that job.
Cercano uno chef in quel ristorante! Cogli la palla al balzo e fai domanda!
They’re looking for a chef in that restaurant! Seize the opportunity and apply!
Quelle scarpe che ti piacciono sono in saldo. Dovresti cogliere la palla al balzo.
Those shoes you love are on sale. You should seize the opportunity while it lasts!