Italian expression of the day: ‘Mettere nel sacco’

Get in the sack.

Italian expression of the day: 'Mettere nel sacco'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Have you ever had a nemesis, rival, bitter opponent or sworn enemy, or someone who just rubbed you up the wrong way?

A person you’d like to outsmart, outwit, and generally confound?
Perhaps you’ve even dreamed of doing so in the manner of a cartoon hero (or villain).
In Italian, you can live out your fantasy and “put (them) in the sack” – metterlo nel sacco.
Costume Quest Wtf GIF by Cartoon Hangover 

This pleasingly Tom and Jerry-esque metaphor is as simple as it sounds – you best your opponent by inserting them into a sack, incapacitating them in the process.

You are out of the sack, free to carry on about your business, while they are trapped in the sack, stymied at every turn.

Ah ha! Pensavate veramente di poter mettermi nel sacco?!
Ah ha! Did you really think you could get one over on me?!

Questa volta ti ho messo nel sacco, Batman.
This time I’ve outsmarted you, Batman.

While it is enjoyable to imagine doing this to your adversary, we feel compelled to warn that a lifetime of cartoon and Disney-watching indicates that things do not always work out to the sack-wielder’s satisfaction.

Geppetto's sack used in the Aristocats. In this sack Duche… | Flickr
Cases in point

Conversely, if you yourself have recently been messo nel sacco and are reading this from inside your dank and musty burlap prison, rest assured that animated movie history suggests you’re likely to win out in the end.

the aristocats GIF by Maudit

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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.