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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Riso’

What's so funny about rice, anyway?

Trying to learn another language can be very confusing at times. Words with double meanings don't help, and Italian is full of them.

Riso is the kind of word we barely need to translate. You probably know that it's the word for rice – as in risotto, of course.

But you might get confused if you you ask an Italian person:

– Avete riso?

Because riso is also the past participle of the verb ridere (to laugh), and the word is pronounced the same way (reeh-zo), the question means both “Do you have any rice?” and “Did you laugh?”

The person you're asking might respond:

-Sì, abbiamo riso tantissimo!

Does this mean that they have loads of rice? Nope, it means “yes, we laughed a lot!” – but it's easy to see how an Italian learner might think they have a cupboard packed full of arborio.

Obviously it's all in the context and usually it's not too hard to figure out which riso is being talked about.

– Ci sono circa cinquanta tipi di riso nel supermercato

– There are about fifty kinds of rice in the supermarket

– È davvero divertente, non avevo mai riso così tanto! 

– It’s really funny, I’ve never laughed like this before!

– Non farmi ridere

– Don’t make me laugh

In Italian jokes, sayings and proverbs, it could be taken to mean either.

– Il riso abbonda sulla bocca degli stolti

– Rice/laughter abounds on the lips of fools

There are lots of words like this to watch out for in Italian. Just laugh off any mistakes and keep trying!

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

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

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.

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