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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Fa un freddo cane’

Here's an idiomatic phrase to get you through the winter in Italy.

Italian expression of the day: 'Fa un freddo cane'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you’ve only ever visited Italy in summer before, it can be quite a shock to find out just how cold it can get here in the winter months.

When the cold is really biting, simply saying fa freddo (it’s cold) doesn’t feel like enough.

Today’s expression is used in spoken Italian on those freezing cold days.

– Fa un freddo cane!

– it’s freezing cold!

The phrase literally translates as “It makes a cold dog”, which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. It really means something more like “it’s dog cold!”

You might already know that instead of using the verb essere (to be), Italian uses fare (to do or make) when talking about the temperature. So the phrase fa freddo literally translates as ‘it makes cold’ rather than ‘it is cold’. Same with fa caldo (it’s hot).

But what have dogs got to do with it?

Much like with the English phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs”, clearly no household pets are involved. The ‘dog’ is used here as an intensifier; a (polite) way of emphasising how awfully cold it is. 

Similarly, the French would say Il fait un froid de canard! (It’s duck cold!)

You might also hear the variation fa un freddo da cani.

It means exactly the same thing, but uses the plural cani (dogs).

Other ways to comment on the low temperature in Italian include:

– “fa freddissimo!”

– It’s very cold

– si gela
– It’s freezing (literally “one freezes”)
 
– si muore di freddo
– It’s terribly cold (literally “one dies of cold”)
 
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.

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.

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