I just looked on the wiktionary for a translation of reinvent the wheel and was given scoprire l'acqua calda. I do not agree. AFAIK, reinvent the wheel means to redo work that others have already done (cfr. also the wiktionary's definition of said idiom), whereas scoprire l'acqua calda (typically found in the nominal form "scoperta dell'acqua calda") means to discover something obvious, perhaps with lots of thought and/or effort. Do you agree that the Wiktionary is wrong about this or do you think something above is wrong, or that there is more to the issue than what I wrote?


There is at least one situation I can think of where I would use the English idiom but not the Italian one, and it is the situation I first saw the English idiom used in. If someone tries to recode something that has already been coded and made available by others via a class, library, or macro package (and that is the case I found it in on TeX SE), that is definitely reinventing the wheel, but (IMHO) definitely NOT scoperta dell'acqua calda.

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    Reinvent the wheel is quite close in meaning and usage. idioms.thefreedictionary.com/reinvent+the+wheel
    – user519
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 7:42
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    Reinventing the wheel is different from discovering warm water; the latter seems more like finding out something that even exists in nature, whereas the wheel is a tool that required ingenuity to be invented. Could you please add the links to the Wiktionary entries?
    – egreg
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 8:38
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    @Gio Maybe it's just me only ever having seen the English idiom referred to recoding something already coded and made available by others via e.g. a macro package. If someone does that, he's definitely reinventig the wheel, but that wouldn't be scoperta dell'acqua calda, would it?
    – MickG
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 8:39
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    @Gio Actually, none of those Italian sentences sounds right to me. The English ones do, almost all of them.
    – MickG
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 9:18
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    In Catalan we say "descobrir la sopa d'all", that is, "discover garlic soup" with that meaning.
    – Charo
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 12:19

1 Answer 1


The two idioms are indeed different in meaning, as you observed. So much that in Italian you now say reinventare la ruota (albeit it is a recent acquisition, mostly used in technical/software contexts by people likely to be familiar with English).

Scoprire l'acqua calda, which I usually hear in the form la scoperta dell'acqua calda (the discovery of warm water), has always meant to discover something that some, or even most, already were familiar with. It is used as a dismissal. For example recently a scandal about nepotism in universities has been hailed as 'the discovery of warm water'; to call it "reinventing the wheel" would have implied that it was something positive or useful.

Often, "reinventing the wheel" has the meaning of producing a knock-off version of something; to reinforce this meaning you might say that somebody has invented the square wheel, ha inventato la ruota quadrata.

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    Mai sentito usare “reinventare la ruota” in italiano, e come dice l’articolo di Wikipedia è la traduzione letterale dell’espressione inglese che sembra essere usata nel gergo di chi si occupa di software (anche questo uso di derivazione anglosassone). Quindi farei una chiara distinzione tra un uso così specifico rispetto all’uso colloquiale.
    – user519
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 8:02

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