Italian word of the day: ‘Abbaglio’

Don't be dazzled by this Italian word.

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Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

It comes for us all sooner or later, no matter how hard you try: at some point you’re going to make a mistake, a humiliating blunder – in Italian, an abbaglio.

Si tratta di un clamoroso abbaglio.
It’s a major blunder.

Stiamo provando di spacciarlo per un abbaglio loro, prima che incolpino noi.
We’re trying to pass it off as their mistake before they blame us.

(Hear abbaglio pronounced here.)

Abbagliare as a verb means to dazzle with a bright light, and an abbaglio can also (rarely) mean a glare or a blinding light. 

A metaphorical abbaglio occurs, then, when you’re dazzled into wrongness.

And in fact abbagliarsi – literally, to be blinded – can also mean to fall for something, to allow yourself to be deceived.

Ti sei lasciata abbagliare dalle sue false promesse.
You let yourself be tricked by her false promises.

I suoi discorsi appassionati ed eloquenti hanno abbagliato il popolo.
His impassioned and eloquent speeches blinded the public.

The noun abbaglio is often paired with the verb prendere to form prendere un abbaglio: to misunderstand, get the wrong idea, or get the wrong end of the stick.

Si vede che ha preso un abbaglio.
You can see he got the wrong end of the stick.

Prima che tu prenda un abbaglio, ti devo dire che non è interessata.
Before you go barking up the wrong tree, I have to tell you she’s not interested.

Hopefully, now you at least won’t get the wrong end of the stick when it comes to abbaglio.

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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.