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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘In punto’

Learn this phrase sharpish if you don't want to keep your Italian friends waiting.

Italian expression of the day: 'In punto'
Photo: DepositPhotos

Italians are known for a somewhat relaxed attitude to time-keeping. But you never should generalize, as I was reminded the other day when a Pugliese friend and I were arranging to meet to catch a train: it soon became clear that my idea of being 'on time' was to get to the station the minute our train was due to leave, whereas she was worried about cutting it fine if we arrived just 10 minutes before.

In the end our train was on time and so were we (my friend's version of it, not mine). 

Today's phrase will come in handy if you're more like her than me: in punto, 'on the dot'. 

Punto means 'point' but also, as we've seen in the expression punto e basta, 'full stop' – or, to put it another way, 'dot'.

Imagine a clock hand reaching exactly the 'dot' of a given hour, and it's in punto.

Sono le 5 in punto.
It's 5 o'clock on the dot.

Just like in English, it's especially useful when you're reminding someone else – perhaps, ahem, a chronically tardy friend – to be punctual.

Ci vediamo alle 8 in punto.
Let's meet at 8 o'clock sharp.

Because you never know when Trenitalia will surprise you and show up 'on time' – in orario.

If that all comes naturally to you, you're probably someone who's puntuale – 'punctual' – whereas if you're like me and most of the time you feel like this: 

… you're more likely in ritardo, 'late'.

But hey, as both Italians and Anglophones say, meglio tardi che mai – 'better late than never'.

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 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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