Italian word of the day: ‘Sfegatato’

Have you got the guts for this word?

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

If you've ever studied anatomy in Italian – or just read the right kind of menu – you'll spot a clue inside today's word, sfegatato, which is hiding something you might recognize: fegato, 'liver'.

Fegato is indeed the thing that alcohol damages and the organ considered a delicacy in certain parts of Italy, but it also has a figurative meaning. It represents courage or impudence or both – as we'd say in English, 'nerve', 'cheek' or 'guts'.

Ha fegato!
She's got guts!

Italian also has a verb, sfegatarsi, that means roughly 'to give your liver' – effectively, 'to slog your guts out' or 'work your ass off'.

Ci siamo sfegatati per lui, ma ne valeva la pena.
We slogged our guts out for him, but it was worth it.

Someone who 'gives their liver', then, is sfegatato: committed, passionate, even fanatical. 

You usually see the word used as an adjective, meaning 'keen' or 'passionate' if it's in a positive context, 'rabid' or 'fanatical' if it's negative.

È un giocatore sfegatato.
He's a passionate player.

Era un fascista sfegatato.
He was a rabid fascist.

More rarely, you might see uno sfegatato/una sfegatata used as a noun to describe 'a fanatic'.

Vuoi metterti a polemizzare con quello sfegatato?
Do you really want to argue with this fanatic?

… no one has the liver for that.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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.