For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Guasto’

Today's word is one to strike fear into the heart of any traveller in Italy.

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

It’s the one thing no one wants to hear muttered over the tannoy of a train station or airport: guasto.

It means ‘fault’, ‘failure’ or ‘breakdown’, and it’s what innumerable delays are blamed upon.

Il volo Roma-Barcellona viene cancellato a causa di un guasto tecnico…
The Rome to Barcelona flight is cancelled because of a technical problem…

It’s not only planes and trains that don’t work. Guasto can be an adjective (‘faulty’) as well as a noun, and it can describe anything from machinery to people.

Il mio televisore è guasto.
My TV is broken.

If you approach a toilet door and find ‘Guasto‘ scrawled there, you’d better find an alternative: it means ‘out of order’.

And if someone warns you that the apple (mela) you’re about to bite into is guasta, put it down: it’s ‘rotten’. Mind you, the same goes for your molars.

Ho un dente guasto.
I’ve got a rotten tooth.

In fact, the word derives from the verb guastare, ‘to spoil, go bad, damage or ruin’.

It’s enough to put anyone in a bad mood. The word for that? You guessed it: guasto. In Italian slang, it’s sometimes used to mean ‘fed up’.

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.

For members


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.