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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Incubo’

Don't be scared of using this Italian word.

Italian word of the day: 'Incubo'
Photo: DepositPhotos
You might know that incubo is the Italian word for a bad dream, or nightmare. 
 
– stanotte ho avuto un incubo
– I had a nightmare last night
 
Un incubo notturno literally translates as something more like a “night terror” or “night fear”; one Italian dictionary defines un incubo as a “dream that causes a state of anguished oppression.”
 
 

This word sounds so much more sinister than a plain old english “nightmare”, probably because it derives from the Latin incubo: “nightmare, one who lies down on (the sleeper),” and is a relative of incubus, the name of a legendary evil spirit once thought to crush sleepers, triggering terrible nightmares.
 
In waking hours too, un incubo is today “a reason for assiduous, intolerable worry or distress, often prolonged over time.” 
 
That's why l'incubo can also be used to mean a horror or fear – and not necessarily of evil spirits or things that go bump in the night.
 
– Ha l’incubo di ingrassare.
– She has a great fear of getting fat.
 
– ho l'incubo degli esami
– exams are a nightmare for me
 
As you can see, in this case, you need to use the verb avere + l'incubo to express that you “have” a  fear or horror of the thing in question.
 
It's also used in the same figurative ways we'd use “nightmare” in English.
 
If you want to say that someone is difficult, or a pain in the neck, you could use this phrase:
 
– Quell’uomo è un incubo!
– That man is a nightmare!
 
We can use it to talk about nightmarish situations, too:
 
– Sto vivendo un incubo! 
 
– I'm having an awful day! (This rather dramatic Italian phrase literally translates as “I'm living a nightmare!”)
 
If studying Italian ever feels like a nightmare, we hope these daily lessons will help.
 
Do you have an Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.
 
You can find all of our Words of the Day here.

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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.

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.

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