SHARE
COPY LINK

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Acqua in bocca’

Can you keep a secret? This phrase will stop you spilling the beans.

Italian expression of the day: 'Acqua in bocca'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Delusione’

We hope this word doesn't disappoint.

Italian word of the day: 'Delusione'

Experiencing a delusione (deh-loo-zee-OH-neh) in Italian may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t mean you need escorting to the psychiatrist’s chair.

That’s because while delusione may look and sound like its English cousin ‘delusion’, the word actually means something quite different: disappointment.

Disappointment Disappointed GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Food Review GIFs

The two nouns actually have the same root in the Latin dēlūsiō, meaning a deceiving or deluding, and delūdō, meaning to deceive, dupe, or mock.

But while the English ‘delusion’ has hewn close to the original Latin meaning over the centuries, delusione at some point branched off to its current, quite different, definition.

There’s not much in the way of information about exactly when and how that happened, but it’s clearly a short associative hop from feeling ‘deceived’ or ‘duped’ by things turning out differently to what you’d expected to feeling ‘disappointed’.

Che delusione.
How disappointing.

La festa era, purtroppo, una grande delusione.
The party unfortunately was a big disappointment.

Mike Ehrmantraut Breaking Bad Che Delusione No Che Vergogna GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Oh No GIFs

The adjective for ‘disappointed’ is deluso for a single masculine subject, changing to delusa/delusi/deluse if the subject being described is feminine singular/masculine plural/feminine plural.

Era delusa da come era venuta la torta.
She was disappointed with how the cake turned out.

Devo dire che siamo davvero delusi dal fatto che siamo stati trattati in questo modo.
I have to say that we’re very disappointed to have been treated this way.

A word you’ll often see used in combination with deluso/a/i/e is rimanere (ree-man-EH-reh): rimanere deluso.

You might correctly recognise rimanere as meaning ‘to remain’, and wonder why we’d use that word here – but rimanere also has an alternative meaning along the lines of ‘to become’, ‘to get’, or simply ‘to be’.

For example, you can rimanere incinta (get pregnant), or rimanere ferito (get hurt or wounded, for example in a car accident).

It’s also very often used with emotions, usually those experienced in the moment rather than long-term ones: you can rimanere sorpreso (be surprised), rimanere triste (be sad), rimanere scioccato (be shocked)… and rimanere deluso (be disappointed).

Sono rimasto molto deluso quando mi ha detto di aver abbandonato la scuola.
I was very disappointed when she told me she had dropped out of school.

Siamo rimasti delusi dalle condizioni della stanza d’albergo al nostro arrivo.
We were disappointed by the condition of the hotel room when we arrived.

With that, we wish you a weekend free of delusioni (disappointments)!

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

SHOW COMMENTS