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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Scemo’

Have you mastered this Italian word yet? You'd be a fool not to.

Italian word of the day: 'Scemo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Italian has no shortage of insulting words which aren't too shocking to use in front of nonna. Today's word, suggested by a reader, is just one example.
 
 
Scemo (pronounced shay-moh) is commonly used by Italians in much the same way English speakers might use “stupid”, “dumb”, or “daft”.
 
Ma sei scemo?
– Are you stupid? / What's wrong with you?
 
– non sono mica così scemo da credere alle sue frottole!
– I'm not dumb enough to believe his lies!
 
As with all Italian adjectives, the ending of scemo/a/i/e changes depending on whether the person or group of people you're talking about is male or female.
 
It can also be used as a noun, meaning “fool” or “idiot”.
 
– lo scemo del paese
– the village idiot
 

 
Scemo is just one of many possible synonyms for idiota, including cretino,  stupido, sciocco, and deficiente.
 
It's an old word, which pops up everywhere from Italian opera to the works of Dante, but the modern meaning has shifted slightly.
 
As the Italian language teachers at My Italian Circle point out, the original meaning of scemo was “lacking, missing, empty.”
 
For example, they explain, the protagonist of the 1843 opera Don Pasquale is described in this passage as “scemo di cervello“: brainless, or empty-headed.
 
And the phrase fare lo scemo is equivalent to the English “acting the fool”: being silly on purpose to get a reaction.
 
Smettila di fare lo scemo!
 
– Stop messing about!
 
See our complete Word of the Day archive here. Do you have a favourite 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

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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