Italian expression of the day: ‘Buonanotte al secchio’

Italian expression of the day buonanotte al seccio
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Sometimes you just need to know when to say “goodnight to the bucket”.

Buonanotte al secchio (BWOH-na NOTT-eh al SEKK-yo) – literally, ‘goodnight to the bucket’, is a useful phrase to know for those close to reaching the end of their tether.

It means something is impossible or hopeless, that you wave a white flag and surrender because there’s nothing more to be done.

The saying most likely comes from the days long before running water, when people relied on wells for washing and drinking.

If the rope tying your pail to the top of the well broke, the bucket would plunge into its depths, and you weren’t going to see it again any time soon: you could “say goodnight to the bucket”.

It came to mean it’s all over, you can forget about it.

Va bene il tuo piano – ma se Marta vede la tua macchina, buonanotte al secchio.
Your plan’s OK – but if Marta sees your car, it’s all over.

Alla fine – nonostante tutti i nostri sforzi – abbiamo dovuto cancellare l’evento, buonanotte al secchio.
In the end – despite all our efforts – we had to cancel the event, it’s done.

With a slightly different nuance, the expression can also mean ‘and that’s that’ – you’ve done all you can, and that’s the end of it.

Faccio quest’ultimo pezzo di lavoro e buonanotte al secchio.
I’m doing this last piece of work and that’s that, I’m finished.

Surrender GIF - Surrender GIFs

And in some parts of the country it can be used to mean something more like ‘that’s never going to happen’.

– Dove vai? Mi hai detto che mi avresti aiutato in cucina stasera.
– Sì si, lo farò quando torno.
– Sì, buonanotte al secchio…

– Where are you going? You said you’d help me with the cooking this evening.
– Yes yes, I’ll do it when I get back.
– Sure you will…

Buonanotte al secchio is relatively old fashioned, and in some parts of Italy you might hear younger people reference it without actually using the whole phrase, with just buonanotte or even bona.

A twist on the saying is buonanotte ai suonatori – ‘good night to the musicians/ players’.

In and around Naples in particular, the expression has negative connotations similar to those of buonanotte al secchio.

Avevo appena fatto addormentare la bambina quando la festa dei vicini l’ha svegliata e ora è svegliatissima, buonanotte ai suonatori.
I’d just got the baby down to sleep when the neighbours’ party woke her up and now she’s wide awake, forget about it.

But buonanotte ai suonatori can have the broader, less out-and-out negative meaning of “and that’s the end of that,” to simply say something is final and the matter is concluded.

Se ti piace, chiederle di uscire e buonanotte ai suonatori!
If you like her, ask her out and have done with it!

It’s thought to refer back to the days when events and dinners were regularly accompanied by live music, through to the end of the night. When the players left, that signalled that things were really wrapping up and it was time for everyone to go home.

The saying was popularised when the Italian pop band Pooh released an album titled Buonanotte ai suonatori in 1995.

Lasciamo qui gli ultimi pensieri, buonanotte ai sognatori agli amori nati ieri – ‘let’s leave behind here the final thoughts, good night to the dreamers, to the loves born yesterday’, concludes the final verse of the title track.

Buonanotte a chi farà una buonanotte
anche ai lupi solitari
a chi scrive contro i muri
e alla fine… buonanotte ai suonatori.

Good night to those who will have a good night
to the lone wolves too
to those who write on walls
and finally… good night to the players.

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