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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘A ramengo’

This is one part of Italy you never want to go.

Italian expression of the day: 'A ramengo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

I’d never heard of a ramengo until a reader wrote in to ask what it meant. A quick search revealed two things: 1) Aramengo is a small town in Piedmont, and 2) no one seems to want to go there.

I should clarify that Aramengo looks perfectly charming. But what my Googling turned up was that the phrase andare a ramengo (‘to go to ramengo‘) means ‘to go to ruin’, ‘to fall apart’, ‘to go pear-shaped’.

Questa missione è andata decisamente a ramengo.
This mission has gone decidedly pear-shaped.

Why should poor old Aramengo be associated with rack and ruin?

The most prevalent theory seems to be that back in the days when Piedmont was ruled by Lombard dukes, those convicted of crimes – especially failing to pay back their debts – would be exiled to the far reaches of the realm, which in the Middle Ages lay… right around Aramengo. Thus the town, the story goes, became a synonym for bankruptcy. 

All that could be an urban legend: others say ramengo actually comes from the verb ramingare, ‘to wander’ or ‘to roam’.

Andare ramingo is a somewhat literary way of saying ‘to go roving’ and linguists believe ramengo is simply the Venetian dialect version, a variant that has come to mean, by extension, to go off course or awry, to find yourself an exile or vagabond.

Our reader confirms that her grandparents spoke Venetian, while a Milanese friend of mine tells me the expression is used all over the north.

As well as a description, you can also use the phrase as a command: it’s a kind of curse when you want to wish someone trouble.

Va’ a ramengo e non mi seccare!
Go to hell and stop bothering me!

May you never go to ramengo – but I hear Aramengo’s lovely this time of year.

Lovely Aramengo. Photo: Gianluigi FalettiCC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia

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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.

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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.

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