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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Congiunti’

Here's why even Italians are looking up this word in the dictionary.

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

There are reports of a sudden spike in internet searches for the word congiunti, which has also leapt to the top of trending terms on Twitter.

People in Italy have a pressing reason for wanting to know what exactly the word means: when Italy's coronavirus lockdown rules are loosened next week, the government just announced, congiunti are the only people we'll be permitted to visit.

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So who are they? A congiunto is a 'relative' or 'relation', in a fairly broad sense.

It comes from the verb congiungere, 'to join together' (or 'to conjoin', to use its closest English relative), which describes the action of uniting or linking something, whether figuratively or literally.

La metropolitana congiunge la stazione al centro della città.
The underground links the station to the city centre.

È il momento di congiungere le forze per un fine comune.
Now is the time to unite forces for a common goal.

In its reflexive form ('to join oneself'), you can use the verb to describe getting married, or rather 'joining in matrimony': congiungersi in matrimonio.

Its past participle, congiunto, can be used as an adjective or a noun to describe either something that's 'joined' – like le mani congiunte, 'joined hands', or un conto congiunto, 'a joint account' – or someone you're 'joined' to: your 'relatives'.

In questa sala possono entrare solo i congiunti.
Only relatives may enter this room.

But many of the Google searches of the past 24 hours have been seeking a more specific definition: is a girlfriend or boyfriend a 'relative?

The Italian government has since offered its own definition: i congiunti, official sources indicate, should be considered “relations, in-laws, spouses, cohabitants, long-term partners and loved ones”.

Given that they'll soon make up the whole of our social circle – after six weeks of no social circle at all – we can be glad the word is so flexible.

Do you have an Italian phrase you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us 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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