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Italian word of the day: ‘Infinocchiare’

Don’t let yourself get fennelled by a finagler.

Italian word of the day: ‘Infinocchiare’
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

It happens to tourists everywhere – especially those unwise enough to order at a restaurant in Venice without closely examining the price list.

Every once in a while on holiday – or sometimes even in your hometown – you’re going to get punked, hustled, duped, hoodwinked by a huckster.

There are several ways to describe the act of cheating someone in Italian, including imbrogliare and ingannare, as well as some more colourful words we can’t really print. But few are as poetic as infinocchiare – literally, to fennel someone.

A me pare che tu ti sia fatto infinocchiare da una bambina.
It sounds to me like you’ve let yourself be hoodwinked by a little girl.

Mi ha infinocchiato per bene.
He set me up perfectly.

Where does this expression come from?

Apparently, it refers back to restauranteurs as early as Roman times serving their guests poor quality or soured wine.

To try and hide the drink’s bitter taste, the unscrupulous host would sprinkle it with fennel seeds that provided an olfactory cloak.

In fact some sources say that dishonest cooks were also known to chuck fennel seeds in any old dish that wasn’t up to scratch, including food that was going bad.

Did the trick ever really work?

Who’s to say, but fennel seeds are known for their strong flavour, which is why restaurants will often serve them at the end of your meal along with your bill as a palate cleanser – so there’s probably more than one Roman publican who got away with it.

As for you, keep training up that nose so you can sniff out the fennel the next time a deal seems too good to be true.

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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.