Italian expression of the day: ‘Mai una gioia’

Italian expression of the day: 'Mai una gioia'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Here's an ironic Italian phrase that doesn't disappoint.

Readers who live or work with Italian teenagers will no doubt already be familiar with today’s phrase.

Mai una gioia is an informal expression that has become increasingly popular in recent years. While it’s not one you’re likely to find in an Italian language textbook, it’s all over social media – mainly in the form of memes and ironic commentary. It’s often abbreviated to mai ‘na gioia in writing as well as speech.

It literally translates as ‘never a joy’, and while there’s no direct English equivalent it’s easy enough to understand the meaning from the contexts in which you’ll hear it used.

It’s the sort of ironic phrase you might use when you’re having one of those days where you wake up late, can’t find your keys, spill your coffee and then miss your train – all before 9am.

And it’s one of the more polite phrases you might feel like using when dealing with Italian bureaucracy at the comune, particularly after being told your paperwork has been lost for the second time.

That is, if you can still see the funny side: Mai una gioia is used in a lighthearted way, poking fun at the absurdity of the situation you’re in – and at your own rotten luck.

It implies that, no matter how hard you try, things just aren’t going your way.

Suggested equivalent phrases in English include “just my luck” or, to quote the Rolling Stones: “I can’t get no satisfaction”.

It’s no surprise that this expression was widely used during 2020, when pandemic-related restrictions put a stop to everything from holidays and sports clubs to meeting up with friends.

Here’s hoping you won’t have too many occasions to use this phrase. But when everything else is going wrong, at least your Italian language skills won’t let you down.

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

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