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Italian word of the day: ‘Zitto’

Be quiet and listen to this Italian word.

Italian word of the day: 'Zitto'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

No one could ever accuse Italians of being quiet people. If you want to get their attention (or just give your ears a break), there are times when you’ll need to know what to yell to get everyone else to shut the heck up.

For times like these, we bring you: zitto.

It means ‘quiet’ or ‘silent’, and you can use it either as a description or an instruction.

Quello chiacchierone non riesce a restare zitto un minuto.
That chatterbox can’t keep quiet a single minute.

Zitti! Sta per cominciare il concerto.
Quiet, everyone! The concert is about to start.

Zitto! O ti caccio via.
Shut up or I’ll kick you out.

To Italian ears, the word is onomatopoeic: it sounds like the noise of hushing someone. Think about it: have you ever hissed ‘ztttt’ to tell someone to keep their mouth shut? That’s where zitto comes from.

You can make it slightly more polite by saying stare zitto (‘be quiet’) instead of zitto alone. 

State zitti, per favore!
Please be quiet!

Then there’s making someone else shut up (far stare zitto qualcuno), rather than just asking them.

Non riusciranno a farmi stare zitto.
They can’t keep me quiet.

You can also zittire someone: ‘hush’ or ‘silence’ them. You can even do it to yourself, if you just mean that you stopped talking.

L’oratore zittì all’improvviso.
The speaker suddenly fell silent.

And doing things alla zitta or zitto zitto means doing them ‘on the quiet’ – ‘hush hush’. 

Si sono sposati alla zitta.
They got married on the quiet.

So that’s how to say ‘zip it’ in Italian, but we should make a disclaimer: there’s no guarantee anyone will listen.

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

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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.