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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘A iosa’

There's history galore behind this interesting phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'A iosa'
Photo: DepositPhotos

Today's expression was suggested by one of our readers, and I admit I had to look it up (I love it when you teach me new words! Send me more any time).

A iosa (pronounced “ah yoza”) means, as I discovered this week, 'in abundance', 'heaps', 'in spades' or 'galore'.

Ho scattato foto a iosa.
I took heaps of photos.

But what is iosa? And why is this the only phrase you'll ever see it in?

There are a couple of theories: one goes that the word comes from 'chiosa', an old term for toy money that children would play with. Something that could be paid for 'in chiosa', therefore, was something so common it was dirt cheap. 'A dime a dozen', as Americans might say, or 'two a penny' for us Brits.

Another explanation goes that the phrase is a contraction of “solo Dio lo sa (quanto)” – 'only God knows (how much)'.

When you look up one thing you inevitably find another, and a iosa led me on to a synonym I didn't know either: a bizzeffe (pronounced “ah bitzeffeh”), which means the same thing but comes from the Arabic word for 'a lot'. 

Lei fa soldi a bizzeffe.
She makes heaps of money.

The 19th-century writer Alessandro Manzoni used it in his novel The Betrothed: 

… a primavera, fiori a bizzeffe, e, a suo tempo, noci a bizzeffe.
… in spring, there were flowers in abundance, and afterwards nuts in abundance.

May you too have fiori a bizzeffe (or a iosa) this spring!

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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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