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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Bomboniera’

This word's a treat.

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

It’s wedding season across much of the world, and after more than a year of cancellations and delays for many couples, this summer’s seen a packed nuptials schedule.

If your wedding tour involves attending a traditional Italian reception, you may be lucky enough to receive a bomboniera – an elegant party favour, often presented in a little tulle pouch, though it could also take the form of a cardboard box, a glass jar, or a porcelain or even silver box.

A bomboniera. Photo: WikiCommons

The word comes from the French bonbonnière, meaning a little ornamental box or jar for storing bonbons (sweets).

A typical Italian wedding bomboniera contains at least five pieces of sugar-coated almond confetti. Sugar represents sweetness over bitterness in the married couple’s lives, while each almond respectively represents health, wealth, happiness, fertility, and longevity.

These days they’re not just for weddings, but are also dispensed at christenings, first communions and confirmations, graduations, anniversaries, and sometimes birthdays and engagement parties.

Some more extravagant receptions might splash out on a torta bomboniera, where the favours are arranged to look like an elaborate cake.

A torta bomboniera. Photo: WikiCommons

At some point Magnum caught on to the idea and started selling boxes of little chocolate-covered balls of ice cream as ‘bomboniera’. You’ll often find these sold at cinemas in Italy.

bomboniera can also mean a cosy or cute little room or space, which has given rise to a number of restaurants, cafes, and especially pastry shops across Italy with the name.

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If you receive an original bomboniera, the high sugar content in the confetti should mean they don’t need to be immediately consumed, but will keep for a number of days or even weeks after the event.

Which if you’ve ever attended an Italian wedding feast, you’ll know is probably for the best.

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 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.

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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.

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