Italian word of the day: ‘Proroga’

This word is frequently seen in the news in Italy, but does it mean what you think it means?

Italian word of the day: 'Proroga'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Whenever the Italian government decides to prolong a policy, this word is used in news headlines to announce it.
– Proroga stato di emergenza
– State of emergency extension
Proroga is a noun (meaning “extension”), and also the third-person form of the verb prorogare, which of course means “to extend or prolong” – usually.
This might be a bit confusing to English speakers, as it sounds like “prorogue”, which instead means to put off or postpone something.
Usually, it describes a government body putting off or postponing business for a while. In the UK we learned this in 2019, when the British government prorogued parliament and everyone had to google what that meant.
Meanwhile, the Italian proroga, or prorogare, is also used regularly by politicians, but instead usually means to continue with, extend, or prolong something.
– il suo visto è stato prorogato a tempo indeterminato
– His visa was extended indefinitely
Both words come from the Latin prorogare meaning “to stretch out”, and Italian has continued to use the same word to mean basically the same thing.
As is often the case when you have two similar-sounding words in English and Italian with the same Latin root, the English version is a bit further from the original meaning.
While “prorogue” has a dusty, 19th-century feel to it, proroga is more commonly understood and used – even if it is very businesslike.
It is also possible to use proroga to mean to delay, defer, or postpone something, much like “prorogue” in English, though this isn't the most common usage.
You might use it like this when talking about something legal, financial, or business-related.
– Speriamo che non ci chiedano una proroga di pagamenti
– Let's hope they don't ask to defer payments
In all other situations you'd probably use the less formal verb rinviare for this.
– rinviare una partita
– to defer a (football) match
See our entire Word of the Day archive here. 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.