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Italian expression of the day: ‘Buonanotte al secchio’

Sometimes you just need to know when to say “goodnight to the bucket”.

Italian expression of the day buonanotte al seccio
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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.

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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.

Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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Italian word of the day: ‘Quanto meno’

At least give this Italian word a try.

Italian word of the day: 'Quanto meno'

Here’s a useful adverb to have on hand when practicing your conversational Italian: quanto meno.

It can be used in a couple of different ways, but most commonly means ‘at least’.

We’re calling this a word rather than an expression because although ‘quanto meno’ is slightly more common in contemporary Italian, it can equally be written as ‘quantomeno’.

In many contexts, quanto meno and almeno are effectively synonyms. The only difference is that almeno simply means ‘at least’, while quanto meno sometimes implies a more emphatic ‘at the very least’ or ‘as a minimum’.

Mi potevi almeno accompagnare alla stazione.
You could have at least accompanied me to the station.

Se avessi saputo prima avrei potuto quanto meno darvi una mano.
If I had known earlier I would have at least been able to give you a hand.

Il traffico sulla strada per Como è stato tremendo.
Quanto meno avete avuto bel tempo.

The traffic on the way to Como was terrible.
– At least you had good weather.

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In other situations, however, quanto meno takes on a different meaning, becoming ‘to say the least’:

I suoi piani sono quanto meno avventurosi.
Her plans are adventurous to say the least.

I risultati sono preoccupanti, quanto meno.
The results are disturbing, to say the least.

There’s a third word that’s another synonym for ‘at least’: perlomeno. You’ll sometimes see it separated out into three words: per lo meno. Again, it can often be used more or less interchangeably with almeno.

Vorrei prendere perlomeno una settimana di vacanza quest’estate.
I want to take at least one week off this summer.

Perlomeno and quanto meno can also both mean something like ‘at any rate’.

Non verrebbe mai a trovarmi a casa, perlomeno.
She would never come to visit me at home, in any event.

Sei molto più in forma di me, quanto meno.
You’re in much better shape than me, at any rate.

None of these are to be confused with the quite different tanto meno, which means ‘much less’:

Non ho mai incontrato Laura, tanto meno sua sorella.
I’ve never met Laura, much less her sister.

Può a mala pena dirlo, tanto meno farlo.
He can barely say it, much less do it.

Got all that? Now see if you can fit quanto menoperlomeno and almeno into at least one conversation this week.

See our complete Word of the Day archive here. Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.