Italian word of the day: ‘Tredicesima’

Unlucky thirteen? Not in Italy.

Italian word of the day: 'Tredicesima'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

You may know that today’s word means ‘thirteenth’ in Italian. But if you’re wondering why people are talking about it around mid-December, we’re here to explain.

La tredicesima is the name of a thirteenth salary instalemnt paid in mid-December, just in time for gift shopping.

It’s often seen as a perk for state employees, but actually arrives in the December pay packets of many public or private sector employees with permanent contracts. It’s not linked to performance, and it’s not technically a bonus.

It’s just a different way of dividing a yearly salary which means employees effectively get paid double right before Christmas.

It was one of many policies introduced under Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime to curry favour with the working population: initially brought in for factory workers before being extended to all employees at the time.

While it’s no longer a requirement for all companies to offer this, it’s still widely seen as a perk.

However, in recent years more and more companies have been declining to include a tredicesima in employment contracts, due to the difficulty of affording a double salary payment in December.

And as Italy faces a cost of living crisis, it’s going to be difficult for businesses to do so agan this year – but even more welcome for those who do receive it.

Such a big bonus may sound unusual to people from the US or UK, but Brazil, Singapore, Germany and Austria are among the countries with similar policies.

As if that’s not enough, Italy has a fourteenth salary, too. La quattordicesima is more common among generously-rewarded managers and executives, and is paid in June – just in time to fund a month or two of summer holidays.

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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.

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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.