Italian expression of the day: ‘Arrampicarsi sugli specchi’

Italian expression of the day arrampicarsi sugli specchi
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Found yourself climbing on any mirrors lately?

In English we ‘clutch at straws’, but Italy has an altogether different take on desperation.

If you engage in a hopeless attempt to fix a seemingly impossible situation in Italian you arrampicarsi sugli specchi – literally, climb on, or up, mirrors.

Con tutto il rispetto, ispettore, si sta arrampicando sugli specchi.
With all due respect, detective, you’re grasping at straws.

Vuoi continuare ad arrampicarti sugli specchi?
You want to continue fumbling about?

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It’s clear where the idea behind clutching at straws comes from: they are weak and liable to break at any moment, plunging you into whatever pit you were trying to climb out of.

Mirrors, of course, have a smooth and shiny surface, so anyone other than Spiderman is unlikely to have much success scaling one.

Why mirrors were chosen and not simply glass or windows, which you would imagine are just as slippery, is slightly unclear.

Perhaps it’s to underscore just how pointless an enterprise it is – you might have a legitimate reason for climbing a glass-fronted building, but there’s no obvious motive for climbing a mirror.

A little different to clutching at straws, arrampicarsi sugli specchi can also mean to try and talk yourself out of an embarrassing or unpleasant situation through unconvincing arguments that everyone can see through. In this situation it’s implied you’re fooling no one, and perhaps making a bit of a fool of yourself.

In English we might talk about ‘arguing that black is white’ or ‘pleading a lost cause’.

Il ministro si è arrampicato sugli specchi per giustificare il ritardo.
The minister clutched at straws in attempting to justify the delay.

Mi sono arrampicata sugli specchi per spiegare al mio capo perché ho perso la riunione.
I grasped at straws to explain to my boss why I missed the meeting.

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As you go about your day, may you have no cause to climb a mirror.

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