Italian word of the day: ‘Spezzacchio’

Today's word is in honour of Rome's wonky Christmas tree.

Italian word of the day: 'Spezzacchio'
Photo: DepositPhotos

Alas, poor Spezzacchio.

Thus has Rome's official Christmas tree been dubbed, just hours after its arrival in the capital's Piazza Venezia. But what does the nickname mean?

You won't find it in the dictionary, so let's divide it into its parts: first, the verb spezzare, which means 'to break' or 'to split'. It can be literal…

Gli spezzò la gamba.
He broke his leg.

… or figurative.

Mi spezzi il cuore!
You're breaking my heart!

It's not always negative: spezzare is often used to mean simply breaking something into pieces, separating or dividing it.

Abbiamo spezzato il viaggio in più tappe.
We broke up the journey with several stops.

In menswear, for instance, a spezzato suit is one worn separately, i.e. mixing and matching jacket and trousers, and it's rather dashing. 

Spezzato: a good look. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

If you suspect that Spezzacchio isn't exactly a compliment, though, you'd be right. This is where the second part of the word comes in: ~acchio, a suffix that you can add to the end of a word to imply that it's small, poor or imprecise.

This part's a bit trickier to pin down: it might be a regional variation of the pejorative suffix ~accio (the same one we looked at in the word giornataccia, or 'bad day').

Alternatively, it could be a subtly different one that functions a bit like '~ish' in English, to show that something doesn't exactly fit the bill.

Ha gli occhi verdacchio.
His eyes are greenish.

But when you attach ~acchio to a noun, it usually implies that it's small or young: an orsacchio (orso + acchio), for instance, is a 'little bear'. 

One more (charitable) possibility: ~acchio can also be the equivalent of our suffix '~er' in English, which shows that something performs a particular action or purpose. 

battere + acchio = batacchio
to knock + er = (door)knocker

So Spezzachio is either 'crappy broken thing', 'sort of broken thing', 'little broken thing', or simply 'broken thing'.

None of them are exactly what you'd want your new Christmas tree to be called – but it is arguably better than Spelacchio, last year's threadbare fir, whose nickname derived from the verb spelare ('to pluck') and translated roughly to 'Baldy' or 'Mangy'. Or, as some wags dubbed it, The Toilet Brush. 

Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.

For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Tirocinio’

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

Italian word of the day: 'Tirocinio'

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.