SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘In gamba’

No doubt you're capable of mastering this phrase.

What would you think if someone told you that you were “on legs”? 

You're might think they're stating the obvious, but if it happens to you in Italy, it's a compliment. And your interlocutor doesn't just like your proportions: in fact, they're showing they appreciate a lot more about you than your looks.

In gamba has little to do with your actual legs and everything to do with what they represent. Think about it: your legs allow you to get around, to run, to jump – and so, in Italian, they've come to stand in for strength, energy and ability. 

So if you say someone is in gamba, you might mean they're fit and raring to go.

Oggi mi sento proprio in gamba.
I feel really on form today.

But the phrase doesn't just apply to physical fitness. More often it refers to figurative strength: in gamba usually means 'capable', 'smart' or 'determined'. Picture someone standing firm standing on their own two feet (or legs). 

È una ragazza in gamba.
She's a smart girl.

Abbiamo un professore molto in gamba.
We've got a really good teacher.

Sei una persona in gamba.
You're a capable person.

The opposite can also be true, of course: essere male in gamba ('to be bad on your legs') means being weak, frail or in bad shape, though it's an old-fashioned way of saying it that you won't hear much today.

And you can rimettersi in gamba ('get back on your legs') if you recover from an illness or setback. It's really not so different to the English expression 'get back on your feet' – just a little higher up. 

If you know someone who's struggling to stand right, we suggest you tell them “In gamba!“: you can use the phrase as a kind of bid to wish someone good form.

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

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

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.

SHOW COMMENTS