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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Spezzacchio’

Today's word is in honour of Rome's wonky Christmas tree.

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

Alas, poor Spezzacchio.

Thus has Rome's official Christmas tree been dubbed, just hours after its arrival in the capital's Piazza Venezia. But what does the nickname mean?

You won't find it in the dictionary, so let's divide it into its parts: first, the verb spezzare, which means 'to break' or 'to split'. It can be literal…

Gli spezzò la gamba.
He broke his leg.

… or figurative.

Mi spezzi il cuore!
You're breaking my heart!

It's not always negative: spezzare is often used to mean simply breaking something into pieces, separating or dividing it.

Abbiamo spezzato il viaggio in più tappe.
We broke up the journey with several stops.

In menswear, for instance, a spezzato suit is one worn separately, i.e. mixing and matching jacket and trousers, and it's rather dashing. 


Spezzato: a good look. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

If you suspect that Spezzacchio isn't exactly a compliment, though, you'd be right. This is where the second part of the word comes in: ~acchio, a suffix that you can add to the end of a word to imply that it's small, poor or imprecise.

This part's a bit trickier to pin down: it might be a regional variation of the pejorative suffix ~accio (the same one we looked at in the word giornataccia, or 'bad day').

Alternatively, it could be a subtly different one that functions a bit like '~ish' in English, to show that something doesn't exactly fit the bill.

Ha gli occhi verdacchio.
His eyes are greenish.

But when you attach ~acchio to a noun, it usually implies that it's small or young: an orsacchio (orso + acchio), for instance, is a 'little bear'. 

One more (charitable) possibility: ~acchio can also be the equivalent of our suffix '~er' in English, which shows that something performs a particular action or purpose. 

battere + acchio = batacchio
to knock + er = (door)knocker

So Spezzachio is either 'crappy broken thing', 'sort of broken thing', 'little broken thing', or simply 'broken thing'.

None of them are exactly what you'd want your new Christmas tree to be called – but it is arguably better than Spelacchio, last year's threadbare fir, whose nickname derived from the verb spelare ('to pluck') and translated roughly to 'Baldy' or 'Mangy'. Or, as some wags dubbed it, The Toilet Brush. 

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.

Business Guy Nbc GIF by Sunnyside

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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