Italian word of the day: ‘scivolosa’

This slippery word could come in useful. Do you know what it means?

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

Today's word is for the clumsy and accident-prone among us. 

Scivolosa isn't an insult. It's an adjective that's quite fun to say, although usually used in situations that aren't that much fun.

For example, yesterday I decided to wear some really impractical shoes for an evening passeggiata, completely forgetting that a) I was in a Puglian town paved entirely in shiny white flagstones and b) I don't have that innate ability to walk gracefully in silly shoes that so many Italian women seem to be born with. 

Still, I managed to keep most of my dignity, until it started raining. At that point I clung onto my husband who, trying his best not to laugh, kept saying.

– “piano piano, è scivolosa!”

– “Take it slow, it's slippery!”

I muttered that the road was, indeed, scivolosissima (very slippery) and vowed to wear my comfy trainers in future. (Although I was secretly pleased to have a reason to say scivolosissima, because it sounds really nice.)

Scivolosa is easy to say once you know that the 'sc' in Italian is pronounced like a 'sh' in English, and the stress is on the third syllable: “shee-voh-loh-sah”

It can be used to talk about any slippery, smooth or greasy surface:

– Gli automobilisti sono stati avvertiti sulle strade scivolose.

– Motorists were warned about slippery roads.

And the verb scivolare means “to slip”.

– Stai attento a non scivolare

– Be careful not to slip

è scivolato giù dalle scale

– he slipped and fell down the stairs

Using the verb, another way to say something is slippery is:

– si scivola

– it's slippery (literally: it slips.)

And scivolone is a noun, which I at first imagined must mean “a clumsy person” – but it actually turns out to just mean a slip or fall.

– fare uno scivolone

– to take a tumble

In fact, the Italian version of a clumsy person or “butterfingers” is

– Persona dalle mani di ricotta/mani di pasta frolla

– Someone with ricotta hands/pastry hands

So there you go. Dropping things or landing flat on your face in the street might be embarassing, but at least now you can talk about it in Italian!


Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan 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.

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.