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Italian expression of the day: 'Acqua in bocca'

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Italian expression of the day: 'Acqua in bocca'
Photo: DepositPhotos
16:26 CET+01:00
Can you keep a secret? This phrase will stop you spilling the beans.

Sometimes, learning Italian feels like a struggle. All those endless verb conjugations to remember, the words that mean ten different things, and confusion over which gender has been assigned to an inanimate object. Here's a secret: I regularly feel like giving up in frustration.

But one thing that's enjoyable about studying Italian is learning idiomatic expressions - those phrases that don't translate literally, but give the language so much of its colour.

The meaning of today's idiomatic phrase could be hard to guess.

Acqua in bocca literally translates as "water in the mouth" and it means you should keep something quiet.

Instead of someone saying, “Keep it to yourself,” in Italian, you'd be told to “keep the water in your mouth.”

Obvious, right?

After all, if you've got a mouth full of water you won't be doing much talking.

While it may sound a little intimidating, the mental image of keeping the water in your mouth might just help you refrain from “spilling the beans.”

- Ma, ricorda... acqua in bocca.

- But remember, mum's the word.

- Per favore, acqua in bocca.

- Please, keep it under your hat.

- Fino a quel momento, acqua in bocca.

- Until then, keep it to yourself

And in Italy, bickering couples are advised to “keep the water in their mouths” - a local priest told my parents-in-law as newlyweds to imagine having a mouth full of water every time either one of them felt like complaining or picking a fight.

So there it is: if you need to keep a secret (or find marital bliss) the trick is simply to make sure you can't open your mouth!


Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.

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