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Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare la Cassandra’

We don't want to be a Cassandra about this, but you really should believe us about this phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Fare la Cassandra'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

You’re looking on as your neighbour climbs a ladder to do some jobs on their roof, but you notice they’re laden down with tools and objects. They’re wobbling unsteadily as they climb – and those steps don’t look overly secure anyway.

Up they go and you can already picture the flashing ambulance lights as they slip and flail all the way down to the bottom.

You want to express your concern for things going badly, as it’s just obvious to you that they will, but you don’t want to fare la Cassandra about it.

Non vorrei proprio fare la Cassandra, ma sei sicuro che la scala sia stabile?

I really don’t want to be a doom-monger, but are you sure that ladder’s stable?

Non voglio essere la Cassandra, ma questo non è di buon auspicio.

I don’t want to be a Debbie downer, but this doesn’t bode well.

So, being a Cassandra (either fare la Cassandra or essere la Cassandra works), is a rhetorical device to mean you predict or foretell disastrous and dramatic events or misfortunes without being believed. In other words, you’re an ignored prophet of (accurate) ominous happenings.

The phrase has its origins in Greek mythology – Cassandra was a beautiful young woman with the power to make prophecies, which were not believed.

She was the daughter of Priam, King of Troy and she was so captivating that even the god Apollo himself fell in love with her. To woo her, Apollo gave her the power of prophecy. He was the god of prophecy too, actually – as well as music, art and poetry.

The young Trojan princess, however, refused Apollo’s romantic advances, who, in response, took revenge by condemning her to predict terrible events without ever being believed.

‘To be a Cassandra’ therefore means to predict unpleasant situations, but for nobody to give you the time of day when you tell them that falling piece of rock is going to hit them on the head.

You can use the phrase to show you don’t want to be negative, but that you foresee problems. In this sense, it’s a bit like the English phrase, ‘rain on your parade’.

Senza voler fare la Cassandra, credo comunque che tu abbia ancora una lunga strada da fare.

I don’t want to rain on your parade, but I still think you have a very long way to go.

It’s even the namesake of a syndrome. In the field of psychology, the Cassandra syndrome is defined as the condition of those who have an overly pessimistic view of future events, whether these concern themselves or other people.

This leads to constantly predicting misfortunes for oneself or others.

Such a fatalistic view of the world can be irritating. If someone is always predicting the worst case scenario, you can tell them to stop being such a Cassandra about it.

Non fare la Cassandra.

Don’t be such a doomsayer/a Debbie downer.

So don’t be a negative Nelly, or a calamitous Cassandra, get learning this phrase and it’ll all work out just fine.

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

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For members


Italian expression of the day: ‘A meno che’

You might want some help mastering this phrase, unless your Italian is already advanced.

Italian expression of the day: 'A meno che'

It’s always helpful to have a little caveat up your sleeve when making plans – just in case something crops up and you need to change course.

In English, there’s a pretty simple way to express this idea: we just use the word ‘unless’ followed by the present simple.

Italian, however, is a bit more complicated. We need to add a non after a meno che – something that can trip up anglophones – and then follow this with a subjunctive, since we’re talking about a hypothetical situation.

Potremmo andare a fare un giro in bicicletta, a meno che tu non abbia da fare?
We could go for a bike ride, unless you’re busy?

La festa si terrà all’aperto, a meno che non piova.
She’ll have the party outdoors unless it rains.

To wrap your head around this addition of a negative, it can help to think of the Italian translation less as “unless XYZ is the case” so much as something along the lines of “as long as XYZ weren’t the case.”

A meno che is the most common variant you’ll hear, but if you want to mix things up a bit, you could instead use any of salvo che, tranne che, or eccetto che.

Il rimborso sarà effettuato entro 24 ore, signora, salvo che Lei non cambi idea prima di allora.
The refund will be processed within 24 hours, madam, unless you change your mind before then.

L’intervento chirurgico non è necessario, tranne che i sintomi non causino dolore.
Surgery isn’t necessary unless the symptoms are causing you any pain.

Unless you’ve been watching TV throughout this explainer, we’re sure you’ll be confidently using a meno che and its equivalents in no time.

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