Italian expression of the day: ‘Acqua in bocca’

Italian expression of the day: 'Acqua in bocca'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Can you keep a secret? This phrase will stop you spilling the beans.

One thing that’s always enjoyable about studying Italian is learning idiomatic expressions – those phrases that don’t translate literally, but give the language so much of its colour.

And the meaning of today’s idiomatic phrase might be a little hard to guess.

Acqua in bocca literally translates as “water in the mouth”, and it’s a way to suggest that someone keeps their mouth firmly shut.

This could be because you’ve got a secret, or because you’re feeling a bit argumentative. Either way, 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.

If you’re dying to share a piece of juicy gossip, 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.

– Fino a quel momento, acqua in bocca.

– Until then, keep it to yourself

In one common example, bickering couples in Italy may be advised to ‘keep the water in their mouths’: a local priest apparently 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 you have it. If you need to keep a secret (or find marital bliss) the trick may be simply not to open your mouth.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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