Italian word of the day: ‘Occhio’

Watch out for this one.

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

We all know that Italy's got a lot to look at. Today's word will help you focus on the sights that are more urgent than others.

Occhio (pronounced “ock-kio”), as you may know already, means 'eye'. And just like in English, there's a whole host of expressions related to it.

Eagle-eyed? In Italian, you have the 'eye of a lynx' (occhio di lince). Something's so ugly it's an eyesore? Italians call it a 'punch in the eye' (pugno in un occhio). And while we say something exorbitant costs an arm and a leg, Italians are more concerned about paying 'an eye from the head' (un occhio della testa).

But here we'll focus on one of occhio's simplest – and most practical – uses: as a way to say 'watch out'.

The text book way to say that is stai attento, or just attento. But in Italy you'll also hear people let loose a warning “Occhio!” when they want you to keep your eyes peeled.

They might specify what exactly you need to watch…

Occhio al cane, rallenta!
Look out for the dog, slow down! 

Occhio alla borsa, la metro è piena di borseggiatori.
Watch your bag, the underground is full of pickpockets.

… or they might simply mime it, by pulling down the lower lid of one eye with a finger and staring you meaningfully. (Regular readers will remember that you can use also the same gesture to signal that someone is furbo – 'sly' or 'cunning' – in which case we'd advise you to keep an eye on them too.)

Do you have a favourite Italian word 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.