Italian word of the day: ‘Mezzogiorno’

Why this word is used for talking about so much more than just lunchtime.

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

When Italians talk about mezzogiorno, they’re not always discussing lunchtime – although that would be the most obvious meaning, and maybe the most obvious topic up for discussion in this food-obsessed country.

The word can be used to talk about midday, or noon:

– Pranziamo a mezzogiorno

– We eat lunch at noon

However, when Italians start using the word while talking about the weather, politics or geography, non-native speakers tend to get a bit lost.

Curiously, the south of Italy – basically everything south and east of Naples – is often referred to as the Mezzogiorno.

– Le città del Mezzogiorno

– The cities in the south of Italy

Sicily and Sardinia are often included in the Mezzogiorno, too.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

If you’re wondering why on earth Italians would describe half of their country as ‘midday’, the reason goes all the way back to the days of the Maritime Republics, or repubbliche marinare, in the middle ages.

Seafarers around the Mediterranean gave names to the winds coming from different directions to help them describe their routes, long before the days of the compass, when they couldn’t simply say ‘North’ or ‘South-east’.

Vento di Tramontana, proveniente dal Settentrione (Wind from the north)

Vento di Ponente, proveniente dall’ Occidente (Wind from the West)

Vento di Levante, proveniente dall’ Oriente (Wind from the East)

Vento di Mezzogiorno, proveniente dal Meridione (Wind from the South)

The wind coming from the south was called ‘il Mezzogiorno’ because at midday the sun is seen in the south (or, as it was known long before there was a word for ‘south’, in the Meridione, or Meridian.)


A modern version of the wind rose, or la rosa dei venti. Photo: Depositphotos.

Still today, the south of Italy is also often called Meridione, while the north is still referred to as Settentrione.

Or Italia meridionale/settentrionale

All very interesting, sure, but is this useful? Actually, it is. These words might sound like some unnecessary thing that only a geography teacher would ever use, but in Italy you’ll hear them in weather reports and everyday conversations all the time.

Basically, Italians today are using this bit of old-school sailor lingo in everyday speech. Which I think is pretty cool.

So next time an Italian friend starts talking about il mezzogiorno while discussing some seemingly unrelated topic, you’ll know it’s not (just) because they’re really looking forward to lunchtime.

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: ‘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.