Italian word of the day: ‘Addosso’

The time has come to use this very expressive word.

Italian word of the day: 'Addosso'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Summer is well and truly here in Italy, and if you’re really feeling the heat you could say:

L’estate addosso
– Summer is upon us

As Italian singer Jovanotti shows us in the song L’estate addosso, this phrase doesn’t simply describe the changing of the seasons.

In the song, he’s also describing the weight (and heat) of summer being ‘on top of’ him. He feels it weighing on him.

Addosso is a particularly expressive preposition that has no direct translation into English.

It can be used used literally, or in a more abstract way, to mean something is close in terms of either space or time.

It can mean right on top of you, or close enough to be breathing down your neck.

– Gli è caduto l’albero addosso.
– The tree fell right on top of him.

It can mean that you feel something very strongly, or have a particularly vivid memory of something.

– Ogni tanto, questa cattiva esperienza me la sento ancora addosso.

– Sometimes I can still feel this bad experience inside of me.

This slightly peculiar word comes from dosso, a rather outdated term for the back, or spine. Dosso today might be used to talk about a small hill or bump in the road.

But more usually, dosso is used along with a preposition to be transformed into a compound preposition or adverb, like addosso.

There’s also di dosso, which is kind of the opposite. It literally means “off your back” but is most often used to mean “to remove”, much like the verb togliere.

– Me lo sono levato di dosso.
– I got rid of it (literally: I got it off my back.)

– Toglimi le mani di dosso.
– Take your hands off me.

There’s a related verb, addossare, which isn’t very common in normal conversation, but means something like “to lay on”, or “to lean on”. It’s used when talking about blame or responsibility:

– addossare la colpa
– to lay the blame (on something/someone)

And there’s also indossare, a verb meaning “to put on” – literally “to put on one’s back”.

– Lei ha indossato il vestito

– She put the dress on

When you consider the meanings of these related words, it becomes clear what Jovanotti meant about summer “weighing” on him.

And if you’re experiencing Italy’s heatwave at the moment, you’ll already know exactly what he’s talking about.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us 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.