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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Senz’altro’

This is certainly a handy phrase to know.

Italian expression of the day senz'altro
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Pop quiz: if you ask your waiter for a glass of water and he replies “Senz’altro!”, what can you expect?

A: Sweet nothing.
B: Your water.
C: An empty glass.

The correct answer, at least in any establishment worth its salt, is B. While senz’altro might look like ‘without anything else’, it’s actually an expression of assent or confirmation – like ‘certainly’ or ‘by all means’.

– Posso prendere in prestito questo libro?
– Sì, senz’altro!

– May I borrow this book?
– Sure, by all means!

The implied meaning is somewhat similar to another phrase that sometimes trips up Italian learners: ci mancherebbe altro (”something would be lacking otherwise’), which you can use to suggest that something goes without saying.

Like that expression, senz’altro implies that a certain conclusion is inevitable: it’s like saying ‘of course’ or ‘no doubt’. 

Hanno senz’altro dimenticato l’appuntamento.
No doubt they forgot the appointment.

More broadly, it emphasizes your conviction in what you’re stating, the way English speakers might say ‘definitely’ or ‘for sure’.

Riconosco lei senz’altro.
I definitely recognize her.

lo farò senz’altro domani.
I’ll do it tomorrow for sure.

And when used in response to a question, as we’ve seen, senz’altro is like giving a very strong ‘yes’.

– Vieni con noi stasera?
– Sì, senz’altro! 

– Are you coming with us tonight?
– Absolutely!

– Mi scriverai?
– Senz’altro!

– Will you write to me?
– Of course!

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

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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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