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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Sbrigarsi’

Hurry up and learn this verb.

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

This useful word was requested by one of our readers, who has a very particular someone she needs to get to 'hurry up'.

“My dog, Sawyer, and I are learning Italian together and I am always telling him 'Sbrigatevi' in the morning when I need to get to work and all he wants to do is roll around in the grass and chase bugs,” writes Kim Antonio from Connecticut in the US.

“Since my dog does not listen to me in the morning anyway it is not too late to teach him the correct Italian term for 'hurry up and get your fuzzy little butt in this house immediately!'”

Kim wanted to check if she was using the right word, to which the answer is: yes and no. Sbrigarsi is indeed the verb 'to hurry up', but to command just one person (or dog) to do so requires the second person singular imperative: sbrigati (pronounced “ssbri-ga-ti”).

Sbrigatevi (“ssbri-ga-te-vi”) is what you'd say to a whole pack of dogs, while sbrighiamoci (“ssbri-gee-ah-mo-chee”) is what Kim can tell Sawyer if they're both running late: 'let's hurry'.

Sbrigati se non vuoi perdere il treno.
Hurry up if you don't want to miss the train.

Non discutere e sbrigatevi!
Don't argue and hurry yourselves up!

Sbrighiamoci, non c’è tempo da perdere.
Let’s hurry, there's no time to lose.

Sbrigarsi is a reflexive verb (literally 'to hurry oneself'), that's why you need to conjugate the extra reflexive pronoun (ti, vi, ci). If you were just using to describe someone hurrying – for instance mi sbrigo, 'I'm hurrying' – that pronoun would go in front, but as with all reflexive verbs, in the command form it's tacked onto the end.

You can also mix things up with muoviti ('move it!') or fai presto ('be quick!').

But if you hear someone saying sbrigare, they haven't just forgotten the pronoun: it's a different form of the verb with a slightly different meaning. The non-reflexive version means 'to deal with' or 'to get done'.

Non posso uscire stasera, ho da sbrigare un lavoro urgente.
I can't go out tonight, I've got an urgent job to get done.

It might be a chore you need to take care of…

Sbrigare le faccende domestiche è una incombenza quotidiana.
Getting the housework done is a daily duty.

… or a person who needs seeing to.

Sbrigo in pochi minuti questo cliente e sono da te.
I'll soon take care of this client and I'll be right with you.

It comes from the word briga, 'trouble' or 'hassle', combined with the s~ that in Italian can turn something into its opposite (think of it like the prefix 'dis~' in English). In other words, sbrigare literally means 'to de-trouble'. 

In fact, the noun disbrigo means the 'handling' or 'carrying out' of some kind of task.

Attendo al disbrigo degli affari.
I'm awaiting the handling of these matters (or: I'm waiting for these matters to be handled).

… which is another way that Kim, if she's feeling very formal, might tell Sawyer to hurry up and do his business in the morning.

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

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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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