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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Piove sul bagnato’

Is 'raining on the wet' good or bad luck? It depends on how fortunate you are to begin with.

Italian expression of the day: 'Piove sul bagnato'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If it’s absolutely tipping it down, in English you might say, ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’ and the Italian equivalent would be, ‘Piove sul bagnato‘, meaning it’s raining on the wet.

Everything’s already soaked and it continues to rain. You get the imagery – it’s a very rainy and wet day indeed.

But this expression has more meaning behind it than expressing a rather grim day where the weather is concerned.

READ ALSO: Ten phrases to talk about cold and wet weather like a true Italian

In modern Italian, the saying is used to indicate that unpleasant events or, on the contrary, pleasant ones, happen to those who are already experiencing them in abundance.

So good luck will come to those who are already blessed by good fortune and, conversely, adversity befalls those who are already suffering misfortune.

In a positive sense, it can be compared to the English, ‘Fortune favours the fortunate’. An example of this would be someone who, after inheriting a large sum of money, also won the lottery.

via GIPHY

Dopo avere ereditato una grossa somma di denaro, ha anche vinto alla lotteria. Beh, piove sul bagnato

After inheriting a large sum of money, he also won the lottery. Well, fortune favours the fortunate.

It can also be used in a negative sense if things aren’t going your way. A bit like the English expression, ‘It never rains, but it pours’ or ‘Misfortunes never come alone’.

READ ALSO: Popes, chickens and reheated soup: 15 everyday Italian idioms you need to know

I miei affari sono crollati, mia moglie mi ha lasciato e la banca si è ripresa la mia casa, tutto nel giro di un anno. Le disgrazie non arrivano mai da sole, a quanto pare.

My business collapsed, my wife left me, and the bank repossessed my home, all in the space of a year. Misfortunes never come alone, it seems.

via GIPHY

If a friend listed all these terrible things that happened to them, you might say:

Piove sul bagnato. È proprio vero, che le disgrazie non vengono mai sole

It never rains but it pours. You’re really having a run of bad luck.

But can we change our fortunes? That’s a question pondered for millennia, but it never hurts to wish someone good luck with a friendly ‘In bocca al lupo‘.

So try your luck and give this Italian phrase a go this week.

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

Member comments

  1. Love your word translations, as there are so many that are not common and yet so descriptive of the actions. Thank you for these great translations.\

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Si tratta di’

What's this phrase all about?

Italian expression of the day: 'Si tratta di'

Today’s expression is one you’ll hear a lot in spoken Italian.

It’s also a tricky one for anglophones to wrap our heads around, because although it appears simple – ‘si tratta di’ basically means something along the lines of ‘it concerns/discusses/deals with/is about’ – it actually doesn’t translate very cleanly into English most of the time.

Let’s start with the use that’s easiest for us to grasp: asking and answering what something’s about/what it concerns.

– Pronto, sono l’ispettore Jackson, posso parlare con la signora Hoffman?
– Sì, sono io – posso chiedere di cosa si tratta?

– Hello, this is Inspector Jackson speaking, can I speak with Mrs. Hoffman?
– Yes, this is she – may I ask what this is concerning?

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We can also use the phrase to say that something is ‘a matter of’ or ‘a question of’:

Se si tratta di qualche ora, rimarremo qui ad aspettarla.
If it’s a question of hours, we’ll stay here and wait for her.

Ora si tratta solo di scoprire dove ha lasciato le chiavi.
Now it’s a just a matter of figuring out where she left the keys.

And si tratta di can also be as a translation for ‘when it comes to’.

Adoro mangiare bene, ma quando si tratta di cucinare sono una frana.
I love eating well, but when it comes to cooking I suck.

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Where things start to get a bit more complicated is that you’ll often see the phrase used where the English translation doesn’t require anything.

For example, you might hear the following exchange at work:

– Michela non viene al lavoro oggi perché la sua bambina è malata.
– Spero che non si tratti di nulla di grave.

– Michela’s not coming into work today because her little girl’s sick.
– I hope it’s nothing serious.

You could say ‘I hope it doesn’t consist of anything serious’, which would get you closer to a direct translation – but in English this would sound oddly formal and overblown (in the above example we use tratti rather than tratta because spero che requires the subjunctive).

What if you want to say that a certain thing – a song, a book, a film, a speech – discusses or ‘deals with’ certain themes or issues?

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Firstly, note that impersonal si there. It’s standing in for a subject, which means we can’t have both the subject and the si in the same sentence together – one of them has to go.

You can say, for example, ‘Il suo terzo libro tratta delle idee di pressione sociale e di libertà personale‘ – ‘her third book deals with ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom.’

Or you can say, ‘Nel suo terzo libro, si tratta delle idee di pressione sociale e di libertà personale‘ – ‘In her third book, she discusses ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom” (a more literal translation would be ‘in her third book, ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom are discussed’, which sounds a bit awkward in English).

You could ask:

Di cosa tratta il libro?
What does the book discuss?

or

Di cosa si tratta nel libro?
What’s discussed in the book?

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What you can’t do is say, ‘Il libro si tratta di…’ or ask ‘Di cosa si tratta il libro?’. Neither of these constructions work because you can’t have both the impersonal si and the subject (in this case, il libro) together.

What if you want to say, for example, ‘the book/film is about…’?

The easiest way to do that is either to just say ‘il film parla di…‘ – ‘the film talks about…’ ; or ‘il film racconta la storia di…’ – ‘the film tells the story of…’:

Il film parla di un robot che vuole distruggere la razza umana.
The film’s about a robot who wants to destroy the human race.

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Il libro racconta la storia di un ragazzo che scopre di essere un mago.
The book tells the story of a boy who discovers he’s a wizard.

Hopefully now you have a better idea of what this phrase is all about!

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

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