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Italian word of the day: ‘Tirocinio’

Let us offer you some (unpaid) experience with this Italian word.

Italian word of the day tirocinio
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you’re entering the world of work in Italy, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ll be offered a tirocinio (pronunciation available here). Should you accept?

That all depends on whether you think you’ll get enough benefit (and money – in the unlikely event there is any) out of an internship, which is what this slightly odd-sounding word means.

According to the Accademia della Crusca, Italy’s oldest linguistic academy and the guardians of the Italian language, it comes from the Latin word tirocinium, which has two components.

The first part of the word comes from tirone, the name for a recruit to the Roman military (tirare means – among others things – ‘to shoot’ in Italian).

The second, cinium, comes from canere, meaning ‘to sound’ (a horn) or ‘to play’ (music); a tubicinium was a horn or trumpet player.

Joined together, the two words meant something like ‘a rousing of the recruits’, in the sense of an initiation or learning experience. An intern is a tirocinante.

Tirocinio isn’t the only Italian word for internship: you’ll also hear people talk about a stage (pronounced the French way, like this, as it’s borrowed from French); an intern is a stagista.

That’s the title given to Alessandro, one of the main characters in the Italian comedy series Boris, who starts an internship on the set of the medical soap opera Eyes of the Heart 2 and is soon initiated into the bizarre and dysfunctional world of Roman TV production.

Ho dovuto lavorare presso la mia azienda per sei mesi come stagista prima che mi offrissero un lavoro.
I had to work at my company for six months as an intern before they offered me a job.

Domani inizierò il mio tirocinio – auguratemi buona fortuna!
I start my internship tomorrow – wish me luck!

If you do end up working as a tirocinante or stagista, hopefully it will be less surreal and better remunerated than that of Boris’s protagonist.

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: ‘A occhio e croce’

It’ll take you roughly five minutes to master this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: ‘A occhio e croce’

Italians aren’t exactly sticklers for precision. 

In fact, it could be argued that most have a natural (and exceedingly irritating) inclination to be as vague as they possibly can when expressing times, sizes and other types of measurement. 

That’s a big part of the reason why the expression a occhio e croce is so popular in ordinary, day-to-day Italian.

A occhio e croce, which is literally translatable as ‘by eye and cross’, is essentially used to refer to any calculation or judgement the speaker is unsure of. Its most immediate English equivalents are: approximately, roughly, more or less and give or take. 

Quante persone c’erano alla festa ieri?

Mah, 30 persone, a occhio e croce.

How many people were at the party yesterday?

Hmm, 30 people, give or take.

Quanto è distante casa tua da qui?

Credo due chilometri, a occhio e croce.

How far’s your place from here?

Roughly two kilometres, I think.

As shown by the above examples, a occhio e croce generally follows the object the speaker is unsure of, though it can sometimes be used at the start of a sentence:

Quanta corda ti serve per la barca?

A occhio e croce, direi tre metri.

How much rope do you need for your boat?

At a rough guess, I’d say three metres.

In these cases, the expression is best translated as ‘at a guess’.

It’s also worth pointing out that some ‘lazy’ native speakers might sometimes remove the preposition a and only say occhio e croce. In such situations, the meaning remains the same.

That said, now that you more or less know how to use the expression, you might be wondering where it comes from. 

Briefly, the phrase is largely thought to have originated within Florence’s Silk Guild in the Late Middle Ages. 

There, whenever one or more threads would come unthreaded, workers would have to rethread them a occhio, meaning with the only support of their eyes, and a croce, that is by following a rough cross pattern. Hence the expression a occhio e croce.