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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Ninnananna’

Need a nap? Let this soothing word help you drift off.

Italian word of the day: 'Ninnananna'
Photo: DepositPhotos

Most of the time, we try to pick Italian words that are really useful: words like allora, quindi, cioè and insomma that we know you can use every day (and even every other sentence if you feel like it).

But sometimes we allow ourselves to pick words just because we like them. And that's what we're doing today with ninnananna.

Say it out loud and you might be able to guess at what it means: una ninnananna, with its sing-song sound and repeating Ns (six! count 'em!) is the Italian word for a lullaby.

It's related to the verb ninnare, which means to lull someone to sleep. And how better to do that than by singing them a sweet tune (cantare una dolce ninnananna)?

È la ninnananna che mi cantava la mamma.
It's the lullaby my mum used to sing to me.

You might also see it written as two separate words: either spelling is perfectly fine.

La sua voce è calma, come una ninna nanna.
His voice is soft, like a lullaby.

To give you some ideas, here's a traditional Italian ninnananna called 'Fate la nanna, coscine di pollo', which roughly translates as: “Go to beddy-byes, little chicken legs”. (Now that we can't explain.)

Listen out for the lines:

Ninnananna, ninnananna,
Il bambino è della mamma,
Della mamma e di Gesù,
Il bambino non piange più.

Lullaby, lullaby,
Baby belongs to mother,
To mother and to Jesus,
Baby cries no more.

 
Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.
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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Conosco i miei polli’

We know what we're dealing with with this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Conosco i miei polli'

You don’t have to be a poultry farmer to go around telling people ‘conosco i miei polli’ – literally, ‘I know my chickens’ – in Italian.

There’s no perfect translation, but it means something along the lines of ‘I know who I’m dealing with/ what they can get up to/ what they’re like’; I know what to expect from them, for better or worse.

It usually implies slightly mischievously that the people or person being discussed could be troublemakers, and that the speaker has the necessary knowledge to deal with them effectively.

You might think of it as ‘I know what those little devils/rascals are like’ if referring to naughty children, or ‘I know how those jokers/b******s operate’ if discussing petty officials or difficult colleagues.

Saranno tornati entro la mattinata; fidati, conosco i miei polli.
They’ll be back by morning; trust me, I know what I’m talking about.

Conosco i miei polli; vedrete che arriveranno alla riunione con mezz’ora di ritardo e daranno la colpa al traffico.
I know them: you’ll see, they’ll get to the meeting half an hour late and blame it on the traffic.

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According to at least one source, the full original phrase is ‘conosco i miei polli alla calzetta‘, or ‘I know my chickens by their stockings’.

It refers back to a time when chickens roamed the streets or shared courtyards freely.

So they didn’t get mixed up, each bird had a little scrap of coloured cloth tied around their foot that allowed each owner to quickly spot their chicken.

The next time you’re dealing with some tricky characters, you’ll know just what to say.

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

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