Italian idioms and proverbs explained n. 1


Last Updated on November 22, 2023 by Laura Teso

In my Facebook page I recently started explaining some Italian idioms, way of saying and proverbs. Since it requires time and effort, I decided to create some blog posts from time to time gathering these idioms. This is the first one 🙂

Italian idioms

Acqua in bocca, Dory by PoisonHeart666
Acqua in bocca, Dory by PoisonHeart666


[AHK-wah EEN BOHK-kah]
Literally it means “Water in mouth” and it is a recommendation not to say anything, to keep it quiet, like “Mum’s the word”.
Once upon a time, a woman, who regretted to be too gossipy, asked her confessor for help. He gave her a phial of holy water suggesting to put a few drops in her mouth whenever she felt the urge to speak ill of someone. It worked! And not because of the holy water but clearly because it is difficult to talk if you have the mouth full. Hence this figure of speech.
I chose a pic of the legendary Dory, even if speaks a lot, and, as you know, she is fluent in more than a language 😉

Italian idioms Buonanotte al secchio
Italian idioms Buonanotte al secchio


[bwoh-nah-NOHT-teh ahl SEHK-kyoh]
Literally it signifies “Goodnight to the bucket”, but it means “nothing more can be done” (I did everything I could but that’s it). I think “Goodnight, Vienna!” is similar, “I heard it in a film one time spoken by the leading man” (that’s a quote from “A word in Spanish” by Elton John, but I actually heard this idiom in an episode of “Sherlock”. Benedict Cumberbatch said that. And I thought: “Oh, that must be the equivalent of buonanotte al secchio!”).

The origin is probably linked to the bucket once used to recover water from a well. Once the rope was broken, there was nothing to do in order to retrieve the fallen bucket. In Italy there’s also another similar way of saying, of uncertain origin, “Buonanotte ai suonatori” [swoh-nah-TOH-ree], goodnight to the musicians. I love “Buonanotte al secchio”, my father says this a lot and it sounds quite funny in Italian. It is therefore one of my favourite Italian idioms.

Photo by Eric Maloberti
L’abito non fa il monaco Photo by Eric Maloberti


[LAH-bee-toh nohn fah eel MOH-nah-koh]
It literally means The clothing doesn’t make the monk, i.e. it is not possible to judge things by their appearance alone, like “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. It comes from a Latin saying, “cucullus non facit monachum” (the hood doesn’t make the monk). The modern version first appeared in the book “I promessi sposi” (The Betrothed) by Alessandro Manzoni (1847).

Italian idioms Non vedo l'ora
Italian idioms Non vedo l’ora


“Non vedo l’ora” [NOHN VEH-doh LOH-rah] is one of the most common Italian idioms. It means “I can’t wait/I am looking forward to”. The literal translation is quite odd though: “I can’t see the hour”. When you wait impatiently for something to happen, the awaiting time seems to expand more and more and never end, so that you are not able “to see the hour”.

Use of this idiom

  • If someone tells you: “Tomorrow is Saturday” you can reply with enthusiasm: “Non vedo l’ora!”.
  • If however you want to say “I can’t wait to go to Italy” you have to say “Non vedo l’ora di andare in Italia” [NOHN VEH-doh LOH-rah dee ahn-DAH-reh een ee-TAH-lyah]
  • Another example is “I can’t wait for it to be Saturday”. In Italian would be “Non vedo l’ora che sia sabato” [NOHN VEH-doh LOH-rah keh SEE-ah SAH-bah-toh].

I discovered that this way of saying was already used in 1700s. In the comedy “Il ventaglio” (1763, The fan) by Goldoni, Mrs. Susanna utters “Non vedo l’ora di maritarmi” (I can wait to get married). But don’t imitate her ’cause that verb is not common any more. Nowadays Susanna would have said “Non vedo l’ora di sposarmi” [NOHN VEH-doh LOH-rah dee spoh-SAHR-mee].

In conclusion, if you want to listen to the audio file , here it is

Did you know these idioms? Hope you liked them!

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