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Italian expression of the day: ‘Lavata di capo’

This isn’t as pleasant as it sounds.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Lavata di capo’
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

A lavata di capo – literally, wash of the head – might sound like a lovely experience, especially when you’ve been craving a trip to the salon after months of pandemic lockdown.

But if you’re ever summoned for one, don’t expect to be met with aromatic hair products and an offer of a scalp massage.

A lavata di capo (or lavata di testa) is Italian for a roasting, a dressing down, a big scolding – usually from a superior to a subordinate.

La professoressa mi ha appena dato una lavata di capo!
The teacher just gave me an earful!

Ho avuto una bella lavata di capo per colpa tua.
I got a real roasting thanks to you.

The idea behind the expression, according to the dictionary, is that in washing someone’s head you can scrub away all their bad thoughts and behaviour.

The closest we have in English might be the old-fashioned exclamation ‘wash your mouth out’ for someone who’s been using dirty language or saying something blasphemous or disrespectful.

Another fun alternative to lavata di capo is ramanzina, occasionally spelt romanzina.

This apparently stems from romanzo – a novel – and is rooted the idea that you’re being lectured via a long and boring story. It’s a bit less severe than lavata di capo ­– more of a reprimand or an admonition than a tongue-lashing.

Non le serve un’altra ramanzina.
She doesn’t need another lecture.

Ha beccato una ramanzina dalla madre.
He got a scolding from his mother.

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Next time you go to the hairdressers, make sure it hasn’t been too long since you last tended to your split ends – otherwise you can expect a lavata di capo or at the least a ramanzina along with your lavaggio dei capelli.

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 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.