It’s Raining Words in Italian
After ten days of postcard-perfect weather, I gazed at a blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds and said, “Sta per piovere (it’s going to rain),” to my husband, who looked skeptical.
“Cielo a pecorelle, pioggia a catinelle!” I explained. According to this Italian axiom, a sky (cielo) with clouds like little sheep (pecorelle) portends rain (pioggia) by the bucketfuls (catinelle). Sure enough, the next day it was indeed raining cats and dogs (something Italians don’t say).
“It’s raining” translates simply as piove, but Italian pioggia falls in many varieties, from a soft drizzle (pioggerella) to a heavy shower (acquazzone) to an intense squall (piovasco). This particular June day brought a downpour (piovere a dirotto). Puddles (pozzanghere) of acqua piovana (rain water) formed instantly on the flagstone terrace. Dirt paths turned to mud. The shutters creaked in the wind. Lightning (fulmini) sparked in the distance, and thunder (tuoni) roared overhead.
“Piove da morire (it’s raining to death),” said Ubaldo, the genial caretaker who showed up in a giacca impermeabile (waterproof jacket) and bright yellow stivali di gomma (rubber boots). He foraged about until he found a faded pink-flowered ombrello (umbrella, from ombra for shadow) to protect me. I dashed through the rain drops (gocce di pioggia) to the cottage where I write.
Snug and warm, listening to the rumore della pioggia (sound of the rain) on the roof, I contemplated less literal meanings of Italian’s “rain” words. “Non ci piove” translates as “without doubt”; “a pioggia,” as “indiscriminately.” Someone who “fa la pioggia e il bel tempo” (makes the rain and the fair weather) calls all the shots. If this sort of bigwig makes an irrevocable decision, “non ci piove nè ci nevica” (it neither rains nor snows on it).
English-speakers may react to a cascade of troubles by saying, “When it rains, it pours.” Italians have a somewhat similar expressions: “Piove sempre sul bagnato.” (It always rains on the wet.) However, they say this when fortunate people get yet another lucky break as well as when things go wrong yet again for unfortunate ones.
One saying proved true the very next day: Dopo la pioggia viene il bel tempo. After the rain comes fine weather.
Words and Expressions
sotto la pioggia — in the rain
piovoso – rainy, threatening to rain
piovuta — rainfall
piovigginoso — drizzling
il diluvio universale — Noah’s flood
un pioggia di insulti – a rain of insults
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language, now available in paperback.
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