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Italian word of the day: ‘Curiosare’

Here's a look at an Italian word you might be curious to learn about.

Italian word of the day: 'Curiosare'
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Curiosare is a word with no direct English translation, since it can be used in a few different contexts.

It is related to the English word 'curious', and roughly means 'to look around'. This can have positive or negative connotations, whether you're describing someone's diligent research or busybody nature.

You can curiosare in a shop, in a book, in which case it means something like 'to browse'. But to curiosare is something more than absent-minded wandering, although there's often not a specific purpose to it.

Curiosare tra le pagine di un vecchio libro
To browse through the pages of an old book

Curiosare nelle vie della città
To wander through the streets of the city

Curiosare nelle vetrine dei negozi
To look at shop windows

Curiosare in un archivio
To look through an archive

You can also curiosare into other people's business, in which case it could be translated as 'snooping'.

But it's not always malicious or with any negative connotation; you might simply be interested to learn about your favourite actor's previous films, or your new acquaintance's Instagram. The only criteria for curiosare is that you're doing the research/snooping/browsing in order to satisfy your own curiosity, rather than out of necessity or obligation.

Curiosare nella vita privata di qualcuno
To snoop into someone's private life

Non per curiosare, ma…
I don't mean to pry, but…

Its roots can be found in the Latin word cura meaning 'concern' or 'care', which exists in today's Italian with the same meaning. In Latin, curiosus had several different meanings, including 'curious' but also 'meddlesome/inquisitive', 'someone who snoops/an informer', 'careful', and 'complicated'.

In Italian, the adjective curioso came to mean 'curious/inquisitive' just like the English adjective 'curious'. Italian also developed the noun curioso, which means both 'someone who is (excessively) curious/nosy' and 'a curious/peculiar thing'. And that's how we got the beautiful verb curiosare, to describe people doing something out of curiosity.

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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.